Monthly Archives: January 2005

Dishing about Pigskin

Check it: Girls talking about football. For real.

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(A big woo hoo! to Sam for the graphic)

These chicks are awesome and they’ve graciously allowed me to join their discussion for the time being. I’m the one getting all uppity when people say mean things about Tom Brady. Well, me and Beth. Read it. Read their blogs. Live a better life.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII

Part VIII (yours truly jumps into the mix)

Part IX

Part X

Part XI

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Grrr…

This is bullshit.

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Hallucinating Spring

Or: Is that a Fenway Frank I Smell?

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(I will now stick my entire body in the dryer)

I have tried to be calm. I have tried to grit my teeth and endure stoically. I have tried not to complain. But I can’t take it anymore. I’m writing a strongly worded letter to Mother Nature and calling for a cease and desist on this bullshit.

Dear Mother Nature:

Listen, you uppity bitch, knock this shit off. A little snow is one thing – hell, even a foot or so is fine, we’re hearty, we can take it – but goddamn woman, this is flippin’ ridiculous. We can take the three feet of snow OR the hurricane force winds. Not both. No, no, you’re not listening to me. Human beings were not meant to withstand this. You’re taking our New England blood for granted. And it’s not just people that are having problems. My car – a Subaru Forester, mind you, the very same car that is often depicted blowing through snow drifts like Darryl Strawberry through cocaine – literally screeches at me in protest when I coax her to life every morning. Screeches, I tell you! I mean, people stare.

I just spent ten minutes shoveling my driveway and I’m pretty sure I heard the wind mocking me. Or at least I assume I would have had my ears not frozen, fallen off my head and shattered on the ground.

You have dashed any hopes I’ve ever entertained of dressing cutely as you’ve made it necessary for me to swath myself in a gigantic, puffy, red coat that makes me expand to twice my normal size and gives the distinct impression of a sunburned Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. I lost my toes sometime on Tuesday and I’ve already taken one spectacular header thanks to your black ice. I sense more in my future.

I have permanent hat head thanks to the Patriots cap currently cemented to my skull and I mean to tell you that I am not at all fond of the ice planet Hoth you’ve turned my city into. The ocean? Frozen. FROZEN! Surely that is not normal.

Whatever point you’re trying to make – that we’re all whiny pussies, that you’re pissed about global warming, that Father Time just broke up with you and you’re hurt and you want everyone else to suffer – whatever it is, consider your point made. For real. Uncle. I give up.

Days like today with temperatures hovering in the tens make me question why on earth I continue to live here. I mean, I know there’s a reason. It’s just hard to remember what it is when you’re forced to sleep under, UNDER, your feather bed to stave off hypothermia.

Currently, I have the 2004 World Series DVD playing in the background as I write this. Game 7 of the ALCS which means mid-October but damn if it doesn’t look downright tropical right now. I would settle for a nice, temperate 50 degrees. I’m not picky but I would prefer my chills come from watching Jason Varitek embrace Tim Wakefield and say, “I’m so proud of you, man,” then from the drafty-ass windows my landlord has seen fit to install.

I like snow when it serves to make Peyton Manning look like a third-string Pop Warner player against a swarming Patriots defense but the Pats aren’t even playing this week. And when they do take the field again, it’ll be in Florida. Even our own resident Nanooks of the North are done playing on Ice Station Zebra. And I’m still here. I’ve half a mind to get my frozen ass down to Gillette where the Pats are practicing inside, attach myself to Mike Vrabel’s leg like a mollusk and refuse to let go until we land in Jacksonville.

By the way, on the DVD, Denis Leary is currently recapping Game 1 of the World Series. A game I missed everything but the last three pitches of because I was attending the wedding of a high school friend. In between updates from the bartender who was listening to WEEI on a contraband radio and sneaky phone calls to my Dad for an inning by inning play by play, I distinctly remember standing outside on the balcony, breathing in second-hand smoke and discussing the ALCS with the bride’s uncle – a Yankees fan – while I gestured dramatically with what had to be my sixth gin and tonic. And I was shivering as satin dresses and strappy heels are not meant to ward off October chills. Do you have any idea what I would give for that kind of chill right now? That kind is sure as hell preferable to the kind I endured tonight when my legs literally turned into thigh-sicles and I put my faith in the fact that they would remember how to function on their own because my brain was too frozen to relay basic motor skills information.

I sent out a company-wide email yesterday asking who wanted tickets for the yearly company Red Sox game. Within three minutes – THREE MINUTES! – thirty people had responded. These are busy people, woman, busy people who are thinking about any number of things besides baseball but that one suggestion of spring, of warm breezes and Fenway smells and a night game on a Friday evening in May made all these important people drop what they were doing and respond with a resounding, “Yes! Sign me up!” Because warm thoughts are hard to come by these days.

I’m all for our hearty New England souls and our “we can take it” badge of honor represented by surviving this weather but right now I am sorely longing for warm, overpriced beer in a plastic cup and peanut shells crunching under my feet.

I mean, it snowed three feet on Sunday, literally trapping me in my house as they’d closed the roads to passenger traffic and leaving me with no choice but to pace back and forth in my tiny living room during the Pats/Steelers AFC Championship Game. Maybe you don’t understand how this works. When there is an important or potentially stressful game on – and let’s face it, what game isn’t stressful for me? – I need an escape route. I need to be able to walk around the block to clear my head and scare the shit out of my neighbors by attempting to see the score on TV through their windows. I need to be able to hop in my car, switch off the radio, drive around aimlessly and call Heather and demand to know what’s going on. I cannot do these things when I am trapped in my house by order of the State of Massachusetts as mandated by your pissed off mood swings. Are you trying to drive me completely, stark-raving, mental patient, batshit crazy? ‘Cause it’s working. And then, THEN, just when I’m starting to adjust to the twelve-foot snow bankings and I’ve promised my car a remote starter with my next paycheck, you dump another six inches of snow on me. Is that your idea of a sick fucking joke?

I mean it, woman. Chill. And by “chill,” I mean, “warm the hell up.” This isn’t funny anymore. You do realize that spring training starts in three weeks, yes? Pitchers and catchers report? Because right now, Opening Day seems very, very far away.

On my TV, Foulke just tossed the one-hopper back to Minky and the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 86 years. Perhaps it’s possible that Hell has literally frozen over. Millar is hugging Varitek and Wakefield is crying. Now those are chills. I guess I remember why I live here after all.

Beat that, woman.

Sincerely,

~Kristen

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Respect the Tek!

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(Oh Captain! My Captain)

I realize that the Patriots are in the Super Bowl. Oh boy, do I realize it. And along those lines – wheeee! But the three feet of snow on the ground is making me wistful for summer and baseball season. So I’ve decided to address one of my favorite baseball-related topics. That, and we’ve got ten days until the Super Bowl and if I don’t take a break from obsessing about the state of Richard Seymour’s knee and whether or not T.O. will play, I’ll never make it to next Sunday without severe heart palpitations. And so it goes…

There are many things about which I cannot be rational. I think canned parmesan cheese is evil. I strongly believe pleated pants should be outlawed. I think Starbucks is overrated and overpriced. And I believe Jason Varitek is God’s gift to baseball. I argue this point constantly and I am steadfast in my opinion. But for fairness’s sake, I shall try to explain.

Aside from Trot Nixon and now, Kevin Youkilis, Varitek is the closest thing we’ve got in Boston to a through and through Red Sox player. In 1997 Varitek came over from the Seattle organization in a trade that involved jettisoning embattled reliever Heathcliff Slocumb for what were, at the time, two promising but as yet unproven prospects. One was Derek Lowe. (Bye, D-Lowe, enjoy L.A.!). The other was Jason Varitek. You can say what you want about Dan Duquette, and many have, but that is easily, easily the best trade he made during his tenure as Red Sox general manager. It may be one of the best Red Sox trades of all time.

That said, no one knew quite what we were getting in Varitek. At the time, he was a 25-year-old minor league prospect out of Georgia Tech. He had some impressive work on his resume – Little League World Series, College World Series, Olympics, only player to have his number (33) retired by Georgia Tech – but we still weren’t sure about this guy. In 1998, he played in 86 major league games, splitting time with Scott Hatteberg. In 1999, with Hatteberg plattooning, the position was all his. He played through the 2000 season as well, only missing 23 games. But it was in 2001 that his true value became clear.

Ironically, Varitek only played 51 games in 2001. On June 6th, he broke his elbow making a spectacular diving catch in foul territory against the Detroit Tigers’ Shane Halter. He had surgery six days later and did not return for the remainder of the season. Catching duties were split between Hatteberg and Doug Mirabelli.

The 2001 season was an interesting and frustrating one. Nomar Garciaparra went down after only 21 games with a season ending wrist injury. Everyone said, “The season’s over.” But somehow, the team continued to tread water. Pedro Martinez pitched in only 18 games then went on an extended DL stint with shoulder problems. Everyone said, “Now we’re screwed.” But miraculously, the team held its own. Then, Varitek went down with the elbow injury. Everyone said, “Well, if we can handle losing Nomar and Pedro, we can handle losing Tek.” The wheels came off.

People will point to the injuries to Nomar and Pedro and the managerial run-around with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan replacing the fired Jimy Williams as the reasons the team plummeted. Me? I think it had more to do with losing Varitek.

By his very nature, Varitek is not a noticeable player. He squats behind the plate and quietly does his business. He makes some noise with his bat but keeps his mouth shut in the locker room. He’ll grant you an interview if you ask for it but he won’t seek you out to make a point. He’s caught two no-hitters (Hideo Nomo: April 4, 2001, Derek Lowe: August 27, 2002) but you will never hear him boasting. Since 2001, he’s served as Pedro Martinez’s mouthpiece when Pedro was in a snit and wasn’t speaking to us or the media. He’s been a clubhouse leader, an on-field captain and a team psychiatrist for the better part of his tenure in Boston. And thanks to a new contract signed on Christmas Eve this past December, he isn’t going anywhere.

And yet some people don’t believe he’s worth it. I have this argument at least once a week:

Point: Jason Varitek is overpaid and does not deserve to be compensated with a forty million dollar contract when he’s only been an All-Star once and he’s not a great defensive catcher and he doesn’t even catch every day.

My counterpoint: First of all, you are smoking some especially potent crack. Secondly, he is not overpaid because he is the ultimate Captain Intangibles, thirdly, the All-Star game is a popularity contest and finally, “not a great defensive catcher?” Again with the crack.

Admittedly, I have a soft spot in my heart for Varitek. I find it hard to be rational when it comes to him because there are only so many times you can hear members of the team intone “Tek is the heart and soul of the team” before you start believing it. And as far as his contract goes, he’s being compensated in the same manner as Ivan Rodriguez and Jorge Posada and Varitek is just as important and instrumental to his team. In that manner, Varitek is a lot like Tom Brady. He doesn’t put up the eye-popping numbers a la Pudge but he is the backbone which the team is built around. That may be even more important in baseball than it is in football simply because of the fact that players can and do demand prohibitive contracts because there is no salary cap and salaries are guaranteed. You want the money? You get the money. If not here, then somewhere else.

I do not begrudge Varitek his large contract. The Red Sox can surely afford it. I choose to believe it had more to do with wanting to give himself some security that he would remain in a Red Sox uniform for the entirety of his career than it did with him wanting the money. I know, I know, I’m being very idealistic about this. If you hire Scott Boras as your agent – which Varitek did – then you’re sending a message. And that’s fine. But I must also admire the fact that, when things came down to the wire, Tek did not go all hard-ass and refuse to compromise. He did, the Sox did and we’ve got a happy catcher, a happy team and a happy fan base for at least another four years.

That said, ten million dollars is a lot of money. And how do you justify giving that much to a catcher who has, as has been pointed out, only been an All-Star once and has been only slightly above average offensively? Here’s how: If we’re handing out money based on All-Star appearances, we might as well give everything we’ve got to the Yankees. Oh, wait, bad example. But my point remains, the All-Star game is a popularity contest. And by virtue of the fans voting for their favorite players – the players whose jerseys they wear – you’re going to get your big name, big contract guys in there. Your Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez and Derek Jeters will always be All-Stars. And more power to them. The numbers they put up certainly warrant it. Sure, other people have other favorites but they are not flashy enough to show up at the All-Star game. My brother’s favorite player on the planet is Doug Mirabelli but do you think he gets himself worked into a righteous snit over Dougie’s absence from the All-Star team? No, he supports Manny and Ortiz instead. Likewise, I do not think All-Star appearances should be considered when you’re just not a flashy numbers kind of player, as most catchers tend not to be. You’ve got your exceptions, for sure, Pudge and Mike Piazza among them. But really, if we’re seriously referring to Piazza as a “catcher,” we’ve got a whole other argument.

A catcher’s ability to handle a pitching staff goes largely overlooked. Strange since pitching is perhaps the greatest component necessary for a winning team. Prior to 2004, Varitek seemingly had his hands full dealing with the diva-esque Pedro Martinez, the space shot Derek Lowe, the young and often erratic Bronson Arroyo and the entire cast of bullpen characters. We’ve got Dougie to corral Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball and I’m pretty sure there’s no one on the planet more grateful for that than Varitek. Suddenly, he has to learn the patterns and manners and idiosyncrasies of closer Keith Foulke and notorious student of the game and uber-preparer, Curt Schilling. The verdict? Schilling has said that prior to coming to Boston, he never let a catcher call a game for him. Now? Varitek gets to tell the big man what he’ll throw. That, my friends, is respect.

Boston has a big turnover in their pitching staff this year. Two of the five starters are gone and three new ones (David Wells, Matt Clement and Wade Miller) have been thrown into the mix. The Big Schill, Bro-yo and Wake return. Mirabelli is back as well. Of the three newbies, to a man, they have all declared the presence, or anticipated presence of Varitek as he was still unsigned as a major factor in their deciding to come to Boston. To whit: “A huge thing for me was the catching situation. When I watch catchers, I think, ‘Man, I’d like to throw to this guy.’ I remember saying that a lot of times about Varitek.” – Matt Clement. Not only does he get the respect of his teammates but Varitek is garnering praise from his opponents, as Wells has been in the past, and even pitchers in the National League whom he’s never played against, like Clement. You don’t get much more well-respected than that.

When he signed his new contract on Christmas Eve, the Red Sox presented Varitek with a new jersey, bearing a red “C” over the left breast. Or the heart. Exactly where it belongs. Some people have argued that baseball teams don’t need captains because they’ve got managers to keep everything straight and argue with the umps. Fair point. And that may be why only three teams that I can currently think of have official captains – Mike Sweeney of the Kansas City Royals, Derek Jeter of the Yankees, and now Varitek. But I think the Red Sox were making a statement by naming Varitek caption – something that he was unaware of before receiving the jersey, by the way. The team had been searching for a “face of the franchise.” That’s what the whole A-Rod business was about last winter. They tried to sell Nomar, but Nomar was a reluctant superstar, not particularly comfortable with the spotlight. They tried to sell Pedro, but Pedro was too uppity for some in the Boston media. And Schilling, despite his best efforts, only pitches every fifth day. So we’ve got Varitek. He has become the face of this franchise. And giving him that captain’s jersey solidifies one thing that we’ve all known to be true for some time: the Boston Red Sox are Jason Varitek’s team. He is their leader.

Whether it’s coaxing a struggling starter through a particularly difficult pitch sequence or laying the smack down on A-Rod because he Would. Not. Take. It. Anymore., Varitek is the leader of this team. No one works harder, no one plays harder and no one respects the game more. The thing is, he’s a model baseball player. Let’s put it this way. If I had a child who wanted to play baseball, I’d want him or her to have Jason Varitek as a role model. Not Pedro. Not Jeter and certainly not Bonds. Varitek. He stands for everything that is great about the game of baseball. Call him a “dirt dog.” Call him a “throwback.” Call him “Tek.” But now we’ve got a new one. Now, we call him “Captain.”

Pitchers and catchers report in three weeks…

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Super Bowl obsessing.

(Some helpful info about captains from the swell folks at ESPN.com)

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Hee.

Hee Hee. Hee hee hee.

Okay, I’m done.

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Simply the Best

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(Smiles to light up Pittsburgh)



Sports journalists and commentators of America, you know the drill, but for the uninitiated I shall provide a primer. Repeat after me: Open foot, insert mouth. Now say it: The Patriots are good. The Patriots are gerat. I will not pick against the Patriots.

Admittedly I was nervous about this game. But it was the kind of nervousness that comes with the knowledge that your coach is the Stephen Hawking of the NFL and your normally impressive quarterback morphs into Robo-QB in the big games. In fact, I’d like to propose a constitutional amendment that he be referred to as Tom “Big Game” Brady from here on out. That said, it doesn’t mean that my hands weren’t shaking just a wee bit. Or that I refused to move from the couch even though my feet were frozen and my bladder was nearing maximum capacity. Years of being a Red Sox fan have taught me not to mess with things if they’re going well. Although I should probably remember what my father said to me last year when I mentioned not wanting to jinx the Pats. “Kristen,” he said, “The Patriots are not the Red Sox.” And he’s right. I should have known better. Do not doubt the Patriots.

As far as the game goes, it appeared to be a constant contest of “anything you can do, I can do better” by the Patriots. Because the Pats don’t exploit your weaknesses, they attack your strengths. Then they go for the jugular. You’re gonna run it down our throats with heavy doses of Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley? All right then, meet Big Willie and the Teds. Oh, and as for that running game? Allow us to introduce you to Corey Dillon. I don’t believe you’ve met before. Gonna sic the rookie on us and make history? Baby Ben, meet Eugene, Asante and Rodney. Misters Wilson, Samuel and Harrison, if you’re nasty. Our QB? Just some guy named Tom. No, it’s okay. Don’t mention him. He’s perfectly content to go about building his legacy by being, as Sean Salisbury calls him, a “silent assassin.” Then again, maybe you have heard of him before. He’s won a few things. Around these parts, we just call him Tommy.

All respect to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they are a very good football team and their being in the AFC Championship Game – hosting it even – was not a fluke. They deserved to be there. But this is the Patriots, man. The New England Patriots do not lose when it matters. They do not lose when pride is on the line. They do not care that you’re the number one defense in the league. They do not care if your quarterback has never lost an NFL game. And they do not care if they’re playing in your house. But you can be damn sure they care that you beat them almost three months ago and ended their historic winning streak at 21 games. Big mistake. Because now they want revenge. Now they’re out for blood.

The Patriots know what you’re afraid of. They make you face your fears. They know you want to control the clock and pound the ball with your punishing running game. They know you’d rather keep the ball and the decisions out of the hands of the suddenly shaky and possibly injured rookie QB. They know what you’re scared of and they become sharks smelling blood in the water. Then they attack. Suddenly, Duce and The Bus are running into brick walls of men and Roethlisberger is forced to pass. Suddenly, your worst fears have become reality. And before you know it, you’re playing catch-up against the defending World Champions. You’re not built for that. Don’t feel bad. No one is.

You see opposing quarterbacks looking perplexed as they’re faced with a Patriots defense. Poor Ben Roethlisberger was in way over his head last night before he even stepped on the field. Yes, the rookie has been impressive but Bill Belichick does not lose to the same quarterback twice. That’s a fact. You can look it up. Patriots/Colts games feature frequent shots of Peyton Manning shaking his head. I can only imagine he’s trying to dislodge the computer chip that Belichick has implantedinto his brain. There seems to be no other explanation.

Here’s the thing: it’s not that the Patriots do win, it’s how they win. Something special is going on if you hold the league’s number one offense to three points one week and hang 41 points on the league’s number one defense the next. I’ve watched this team closely for the past few years, ever since they began on this current era of dominance. Week in and week out, I’ve seen them dispatch teams – great teams, some of them – and even I don’t know how they’re doing it. But, after watching all five hours of the recently released “21” DVD chronicling their winning streak, I suspect it has something to do with heart.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the DVD were the post game locker room scenes. After every game, every game, owner Robert Kraft greeted his players with hugs as they entered the locker room. This is why it works. It starts at the top and trickles down.

This team is a family. And a family it needs to be. You do not break your arm in the Super Bowl and come back to play the next set of downs with a compound fracture as Rodney Harrison did last year if you don’t think your team is a family. You do not patrol the sidelines in a motorized scooter to cheer your teammates on as the injured Ty Law did duringlast night’s AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh if you don’t think your team is a family. You do not play nearly an entire season with a separated shoulder and not utter a word of complaint as Tom Brady did last year if your team is not a family. These Patriots do these things. They embrace the Bruschis and the McGinests and the Vinatieris that have been there all along and they bring the Dillons and the Neals and the Millers into the mix and make them family too.

These boys want another ring. Last night after the game, a sideline reporter caught up to Corey Dillon, who, before coming to the Patriots this year had never so much as had a winning season and asked him how he felt about going to his first Super Bowl. Dillon, thousand-watt smile beaming replied, “Can you say that again?” “How does it feel to be going to your first Super Bowl?” the reporter repeated. “One more time.” Dillon said. “Your first Super Bowl? How does it feel?” Dillon laughed, “It feels great, man, great.” Then he ran off to embrace his teammates. That is what these men play for.

In two weeks when the Patriots face the Eagles in the Super Bowl, they will be ready. They will be hungry. Despite the fact that many of the players already have one, or sometimes two, Super Bowl rings, they will not let up. They want to win for Corey, who’s never been here before. They want to win another one for Bob Kraft, to say thank you to the best owner in sports. They want one more for Tom, so he can finally getthe credit he deserves.

They don’t want to talk about it but the arguments against calling the Patriots a modern-day dynasty are becoming few and far between. This is not supposed to happen in this era of salary caps and free agency. This is not supposed to happen in the time of ego and ESPN. This is not supposed to happen in this age of parity. But it’s happening now. It’s happening right in front of us. Bill Belichick does not lose in the playoffs. After last night’s win, he is tied at 9-1 with Vince Lombardi for a playoff record. You may have heard of this Lombardi fellow. He’s the trophy guy. Tom Brady is currently tied with Bart Starr at 8-0 for most consecutive playoff victories. Starr won a few games in his time. The national media and the pundits can deny it all they want, but thisPatriot team is not good. This Patriot team is great. This Patriot team will turn your own game plan against you and make you beat them. And you can’t do it.

So while the team prepares for their third Super Bowl in four years, I will enjoy every minute of it. While Manning, Roethlisberger and thirty other teams are sitting at home, I will be watching and cheering my boys on. Doubt them all you want, they’ll prove you wrong. Believe it.

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What it’s all about

Congratulations to the New England Patriots for beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 41-27 and advancing to the Super Bowl for the third time in four years where they will face the Philadelphia Eagles.

I promise more commentary tomorrow.

Congrats, boys. And thank you.

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