Time for Grapefruits, Cacti, and RBI

While most of the country is digging out from under the latest blizzard it may be hard to fathom but spring has officially arrived.

Okay, so spring may not be officially here according to the calendar but try telling that to the Boys of Summer who are embarking on the start of their work year and getting down to the business of playing ball.

After shaking off the dust during inter-squad drills, and simulated games, it is now time for Major League Baseball teams to face each other in real competition as the games of the 2013 Spring Training season have begun in ballparks across Florida and Arizona.

Spring Training serves as a chance for teams to gel together and learn the strengths and weaknesses on the roster.  Rosters are never the same from one year to the next so oftentimes players are meeting as teammates for the first time when they report to camp. It is also a time for players on the bubble of making the team to either hurt or help their chances based on their performance between the foul lines.

While it has been tradition for teams to hold Spring Training for as long as anyone reading this has been alive; that was not always the case.  Late in the 19th Century most of the Major League Baseball teams were located in northern cities like New York, Chicago, and Cincinnati.

Members of the Baltimore Orioles warm up during a 2012 Spring Training game with the Tampa Bay Rays. Photo R. Anderson

Members of the Baltimore Orioles warm up during a 2012 Grapefruit League Spring Training game with the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, FL.
Photo R. Anderson

It is still cold in these cities during February and March. As someone who never wore shorts on his March birthday until moving to Florida, I can attest to that. Also, the idea of an indoor ballpark was still about a century away.  So, a warmer option was sought as a means for players to train before the season started.

In 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War, the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings conducted organized baseball camps in New Orleans, LA.  Jacksonville, FL saw action in 1888 when the Washington Capitals of the National League held a four-day camp.

While the exact start of the migration of Spring Training to the South is often debated, no one can argue that by the start of the 20th Century it had changed the game in a momentous way.  While other states had been used for Spring Training in the past, today teams are divided between Arizona and Florida.

In Florida, 15 teams will compete in the Grapefruit League while the other 15 teams will compete in Arizona’s Cactus League.  Instead of taking the time to list who plays where there is an easy formula to remember. With the exception of the Houston Astros all teams that reside west of the Mississippi River during the regular season train in Arizona.  Teams east of the River call Florida home for the Spring.  So there you have it as long as you know where the mighty Mississippi slices through the country you are covered.

After weeks of practicing against each other the games are now starting to count at Spring Training ballparks in Arizona and Florida in preparation for the regular season. Photo R. Anderson

The Houston Astros are the only team west of the Mississippi River to hold Spring Training in Florida.
Photo R. Anderson

And while Spring Training facilities were chosen for the warm climates they are not completely immune to the weather as a photo of snow this week at the Colorado Rockies Spring Training facility in Arizona can attest to.

Teams are also forced to dodge raindrops in games in Florida. Despite these weather hiccups, few would argue that Florida and Arizona still tend to be way warmer this time of year than most of the rest of the country.

I have often wondered why scores are kept, and winners and losers are crowned, during Spring Training since the games do not count against a team’s regular season record.  It is not like a strong showing in the exhibition games guarantees success when the games start to count for real.  The same goes for teams that struggle through Spring Training.  A poor record during the Spring does not mean in all cases that the team will struggle throughout the regular season as well.

After weeks of practicing against each other the games are now starting to count at Spring Training ballparks in Arizona and Florida in preparation for the regular season. Photo R. Anderson

After weeks of practicing against each other the games are now starting to count at Spring Training ballparks in Arizona and Florida in preparation for the regular season.
Photo R. Anderson

So why do they keep score? The simplest reason is the competition level is more intense when there is something on the line.  As players battle to be included on rosters having the games mean something, even if it is only bragging rights help ensure that everyone is playing at a high level.

The players and coaches are not the only ones who enjoy their time in the sun. Each year thousands of fans descend upon the ballparks to catch their favorite team in action. Others go from ballpark to ballpark to just enjoy the sights and sounds of a baseball game.

Many of the fans are also retired to the regions where the teams play so there is a definite older crowd present at many of the games.  One of the things that I enjoy when I attend a Spring Training game, aside from the relaxed atmosphere and sunshine, is hearing the stories from people who are much older than I am who saw many of the legends play at Spring Training decades earlier.  In that way the game is timeless. While the names on the jerseys change, and the prices of the peanuts and Cracker Jacks change, the game itself is mostly the same and is a shared experience that transcends the generations.

So has Spring Training rolls around once again travel plans abound as fans of all ages seek to get in touch with their inner child by traveling to see a game or two, or three, or four, or you get the idea.

To date I have witnessed games in six Spring Training ballparks. My goal is to visit each of the 30 team’s spring training sites in the next three years or so in addition to their main home ballparks.  Will I reach that goal? Only time will tell. Still, if one has no goals there is nothing to reach for and life becomes mundane and repetitive.  And really who wants to be mundane and repetitive?

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about sunshine and warmth has me a little thirsty for some sweet tea.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Here’s a Choice You Have to Make, Which Bat Type to Hold at Home Plate

Paper or plastic? Coke or Pepsi? Boxers or briefs? The world is full of questions that equally divide people in terms of which answer that they feel is right.

I was on the front lines of one of those debates years ago when I worked as a cashier at a grocery store in college.  I was usually pretty good about guessing which bag type each person would prefer.  You had your tell tale plastic fans, the old school paper fans and the hybrid double paper stuffed in plastic fans.  Although reusable bags were not as popular then as they have become, there were a few reusable bag fans as well.  When the store happened to be out of someone’s favorite type of bag it was clear to see that some handled it better than others.

The world of baseball is no different than grocery shoppers when it comes to people having their personnel opinions on everything from whether the designated hitter is good or bad for the game or if it is ever good to intentionally walk in a runner.  Another area of debate among baseball fans is bats.  In particular, the two camps are divided over whether wood bats or metal bats are better.

Wood bats are a staple of professional baseball. Photo R. Anderson

Wood bats are a staple of professional baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

For baseball purists, it is wood bats or nothing. This stance is often backed up with phrases like, “the bats have always been wood,” or “the Bambino would roll over in his grave to think of metal bats being used.”

These fans also think lovingly of the Louisville Slugger plant that makes many of the wooden bats in the world and all the history associated with it.  They would argue that the same love is not associated with the plants that make metal bats. So the wood bat fans are fairly entrenched in their belief that wood is good.

While only wood bats are used in Major League Baseball teams from the college ranks down to the local Little League use metal bats.  Metal bats also tend to be the preferred bat of choice for most recreational softball leagues.  So who has the better bat?

The metal bat fans will bombard the issue with science and statistics showing that a ball hit with a metal bat travels further than the same ball hit with a wooden bat.  The wood bat fans will use the same statistics to say that balls hit with metal bats actually travel too fast and create a safety hazard for the infielders who have less time to react to a ball traveling in their direction.

College players like the ones pictured for the University of Houston have used metal bats for years. Photo R. Anderson

College players like the ones pictured for the University of Houston have used metal bats for years.
Photo R. Anderson

So what makes the balls travel at different speeds depending on the bat type? Well class it is time to enter Ry the Science Guy’s Lab of Science for the answer.  There have been studies done on bat types for years and each one includes many formulas and equations and other rationale for what makes each bat type tick.

One could spend hours debating all of the data and trends associated with bat speed and ball velocity upon impact. We are not going to spend hours on that however.

The simplest reason for the difference in ball speed after impact involves which element in the bat/ball equation is flexing.  With a metal bat, the bat flexes at impact with the ball and then springs forward creating extra force behind the hit.  The wood bat does not flex as much and the ball actually flexes and dissipates some of the energy leading to less energy being imparted onto the ball moving forward.

Washington Nationals sensation Bryce Harper, shown during spring training in Florida, has been known to crash a few Washington area softball games to get in some metal bat work. Photo R. Anderson

Washington Nationals sensation Bryce Harper, shown during spring training in Florida, has been known to crash a few Washington area softball games to get in some metal bat work.
Photo R. Anderson

So there you have it, metal bats make the ball go further due to a trampoline like effect on the ball and the wood bat absorbs more energy than it returns.  Given that simplest of reasons one would think that everyone would want to use a metal bat to get the most out of their hits. But, then again there is the whole issue of how fast is too fast.

In fact, a few years back New York City tried to ban metal bats at the high school level citing safety as a major reason.  After threats of lawsuits and the usual political process the ban was lifted and each league was left to regulate the type of bats used.

Which is not to say that wood bats are completely safe to use.  Anyone watching enough games will no doubt have seen shattered bats flying towards pitchers and infielders. In some rare cases the parts of the broken bats have injured the players on the receiving end.   While the risk to fans in the stands is mostly limited to getting hit with foul balls bats and bat pieces also find their way into the stands.  Given the choice I think I would rather have a wooden bat flying towards me than a metal one but I would prefer to not have to dodge either one.

Most ballparks have warnings such as this one to alert fans to the inherent dangers they face.  Aside from balls, bats and pieces of bats are also often hurled into the stands at high velocity. Photo R. Anderson

Most ballparks have warnings such as this one to alert fans to the inherent dangers they face. Aside from balls, bats and pieces of bats are also often hurled into the stands at high velocity.
Photo R. Anderson

I have often had my own questions regarding the metal versus wood equation. Primarily, I have always wondered why players would not use the wooden bats as early as possible in order to be accustomed to them in the event that they were fortunate enough to be drafted by a Major League club.

Instead, many players do not start using a wood bat until their first professional games and then there can be a learning curve as well as disappointment when the ball does not go as far as it did with the metal bat.

During my brief baseball playing career, which consisted of a season of T-ball and a couple of Pony League seasons, I used both wood and metal bats. I tended to prefer the wood bat over the metal one. I liked the sound that the ball made on the rare occasions that my bat made contact with it.  The ping of the metal bat just never sounded right to me.  I also disliked the metal bat for its tendency to give me stingers when it was held incorrectly.  Nothing like severe numbing pain shooting up the arms to make one not like a certain bat type.

So the wood versus metal debate will continue to rage on and most likely will never truly be settled.  I would be very surprised if a day ever came when metal bats would make their way to the Major League teams but one should never say never I suppose.

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk of bats has made me nostalgic for my old whiffle ball bat. It is bound to be around here somewhere and it never splintered or gave me stingers.

 Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Hail to the Chief and Play Ball

Today is President’s Day, or Washington’s birthday as it is also known.  While originally the holiday was thought of as a way to recognize the two presidents with birthdays in February, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, President’s Day has grown to include a time to honor all of the men, and most likely some day women, who have served in the nation’s highest office.

Of course, if one has been watching television the past weekend, it appears that President’s Day has also become a time to buy furniture, appliances and cars at unheard of savings.  While the founding fathers wanted us to enjoy various freedoms, I doubt they had no interest financing on washers and dryers in mind. Then again maybe they did.

So for our purposes let us not focus on the retail aspects of the day but let us try to focus on the office of the President and what that entails. To date, 44 men have served as President of the United States from Washington to Obama.  And while the nation still recovers from the latest multi-year campaign for the office it is important to remember that by and large the system of government that we enjoy is for the most part stable and allows each of us to enjoy freedoms that we would not otherwise have under certain other governmental systems. And of course there is still that whole area of no interest financing.  I really need to stop watching television on holiday weekends.

Campaign bumper sticker for the 1992 campaign of Bill Clinton.  Clinton defeated George Bush to become the 42nd President of the united States.

Campaign bumper sticker for the 1992 campaign of Bill Clinton. Clinton defeated George Bush to become the 42nd President of the United States.

I was fortunate enough to come face to face with one of the men who would go on to become president. In 1992 I met Bill Clinton at a campaign event in Orlando, FL. While the election was still months away, and Governor Clinton had not yet become President Clinton, there was still something cool about meeting someone on the campaign trail.  I am far from the most politically active of people and part of that was by choice.  I felt a reporter should be impartial and not let their political leanings show so I always tried to use that mantra as my guide. Years later though, meeting candidate Clinton is still one of the more memorable moments of my journalistic career. I am sure that reporters that cover the Presidents on a daily basis lose some of the wow factor at some point but there always needs to be a respect for the office at some level.

So on this presidential holiday let us not focus on  the civics behind the position, or the red state versus blue state leanings. Let us not even focus on the plethora of sales that will end tonight at midnight.  Instead, let us focus on one of the many perks of residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C.; the ceremonial first pitch.

President William Howard Taft started a tradition in 1910 that has linked the Commander in Chief with the National Pastime ever since when he threw out the first pitch on Opening Day.  The first presidential first pitch occurred on April 14, 1910, at National Park in Washington, DC. during a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics with Taft connecting on the pitch to Walter Johnson.  The Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and the Athletics packed up and headed west to Oakland but the one constant for 103 years has been presidents and baseball.

From 1910 to 1971 the President traveled to the home ballpark of the Washington Senators to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day.  To put that streak into perspective it stretched from Taft to Richard Nixon.  While Presidents had thrown out first pitches at the World Series as well President Nixon became the first president to throw out an Opening Day pitch outside of Washington D.C. in 1972 when he threw out the pitch in Anaheim, California since there was no longer a team in Washington.  Various other ballparks were used for Opening Day after 1972 but Baltimore and Washington D.C. were the most widely used due to proximity to the White House.

While the first pitch did not occur until 1910 the link between Presidents and baseball actually goes back to post Civil War America when Andrew Johnson invited the first team of professional ballplayers to the White House.  Other teams were invited as well in the years to follow by other presidents.

Campaign buttons From George H.W. Bush's 1988 Presidential campaign. Bush, was a former college baseball player. Photo R. Anderson

Campaign buttons From George H.W. Bush’s 1988 Presidential campaign. Bush, was a former college baseball player and can often be seen at Minute Maid park watching the Astros play.
Photo R. Anderson

The Presidential links to baseball are not limited to first pitches alone however. Both President Bush 41 and President Bush 43 also have deep baseball roots.  George H.W. Bush was a baseball player in college and can often be seen behind home plate at Houston Astros games. It is also a given that if both President Bush and his wife, Barbara, are seated together they will end up on the stadium kiss cam.

George W. Bush also has a baseball pedigree. Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, the younger President Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who, as one may or not know were once the expansion team that replaced the first version of the Washington Senators who left town to become the Minnesota Twins.  It is sort of a neat bow to tie  it all together.

So on this day that we honor our Presidents let us not forget that soon it will once again be Opening Day and when the President steps onto the mound to throw that first pitch he will be continuing a long standing tradition that honors both the past, present and future of both the Oval Office and the game of baseball itself.

Now if you’ll excuse me I think I need to practice my pitching just in case I am ever called on to throw out a first pitch. After all, no one wants to be the person that bounces it a few times on the way to the catcher.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Souvenir Cup, I Scoop You Up; Proceed to Display

Once upon a time there was a cup. This cup allowed people to put their beverage of choice in it and travel from the beverage source to any other place that they wanted without fear of losing the contents within. Gone were the days of cupping one’s hands together to get a drink from the well or filling a gourd, cow stomach or other container with liquid.

And while the cup was good, and practical, it was not living up to its full potential. That is until the cup became known as the souvenir cup.

Travel to most any sporting event or other event of note and odds are one will be exposed to a souvenir cup of some sort. This cup is usually larger than its other cup brethren and includes features like reuseability and serves as a reminder to all who see it that the holder of said cup was at the sporting event it depicts.

I am not sure when I first caught the souvenir cup bug but over the past few years I have accumulated quite the collection of plastic cups from various venues.  There are three things I try to collect from every ballpark that I visit. The first is a ticket stub. The second is a game program.  And the third is, you guessed it, a souvenir cup.

I was given several Souvenir cups from the Washington Redskins during the early 80’s and while I still have them, I do not really count them as part of my collecting history since they were not actually collected by me. As near as I can recall my first souvenir cups that were collected by me were ICEE cups from Tinker Field in Orlando, FL.   While not being specifically made for the team I was watching, these cups featured each of the Major League teams and also had the added bonus of containing ICEE inside.

The cup that started it all. Photo R. Anderson

The cup that started it all.
Photo R. Anderson

My cup collecting was not limited to ICEE cups however.  Once I got to college I soon added many University of Central Florida cups to the collection. One could argue that plastic cups would serve the struggling college student well but I had plenty of actual glasses in my cabinets so the cups were manly turned into display pieces and were in no means used for the purpose they were intended.

Fast forward past college, and the cup collecting was accelerated by trips to various minor and major league baseball parks.  Every time I visited a new ballpark I made sure to get a souvenir cup. But I did not always stop at a single cup to stadium ratio. Often each time I visited the same stadium I would end up getting a cup until my pantry turned into a sea of plastic.  In my defense some teams would put out several different versions of cups over the course of the season.

Some of the more unique cups are on display in various areas of my office and home while the rest are in static display in the pantry. Now and again I will take the cups down and look at each of them as an archeologist would study some relic of a long lost society.  The cups serve as a time capsule, both for the state of sports marketing and cup technology of the time, as well as showing glances at who was considered the star player at the time the cup was issued.

A selection of Houston Astros Souvenir cups accumulated over the past five seasons. Photo R. Anderson

A selection of Houston Astros Souvenir cups accumulated over the past five seasons.
Photo R. Anderson

The star player portion is more limited to the Major League cups as opposed to the Minor Leagues due to the frequency in which players move through the minor leagues.  The past few seasons the Astros have also moved away from featuring players on their cups.  One could argue that they are also avoiding highlighting players who will not be on the team long.

One particular pet peeve of mine involves the Houston Astros and their lack of souvenir cups at their Spring Training facility.  This will be the first year under new ownership and there is a new logo for the team so perhaps this will be the year that the souvenir cups appear but having gone to the ballpark for the past few years and not getting a cup I am not holding out much hope for a change this year.  Every other Spring Training game I have attended, away from the Astros home field, has had a souvenir cup of some kind. So it is not like Spring Training cups are a foreign concept.

some minor league cups

A selection of Minor League Baseball souvenir cups.
Photo R. Anderson

While most of my cups were purchased there is another approach that can be employed by the savvy cup collector.  While I am in no way encouraging ballpark dumpster diving, often times people will leave their precious cups in the cup holder or other areas around their seats when they leave. So, if you don’t feel like buying one, and the idea of carrying out a cup with someone else’s back wash in it doesn’t creep you out, then by all means grab a few cups on the way out.  You are helping ensure that the ballpark cleaning crew has fewer cups to clean up.  You are also helping the environment as well by keeping the cups out of the landfill.  I have only employed this technique once when I was at Tropicana Field in 2009.  I knew that it would be a few years before I would make it back there and while I had already purchased one cup I happened to see a different cup on the way out and decided it was worth adding to the collection.

The back of the cup commemorating the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series appearance. Photo R. Anderson

The cup commemorating the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series appearance.
Photo R. Anderson

Rays front

The front of the cup commemorating the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series appearance.
Photo R. Anderson

This brings up another aspect of the souvenir cup hierarchy, different cups for different types of drinks.  Many ballparks will have a different cup for the alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages to help ensure that underage patrons are not walking around drinking things that they shouldn’t be.  So in the event that there are multiple cup types I suppose a cup scavenging approach could be warranted to ensure that you left with a full set.

I actually tried to discover when souvenir cups first appeared on the scene but sadly I was unable to locate a source that said, “behold the birth of the souvenir cup.” Short of that I guess one can assume that as long as there have been cups there have been souvenir versions of them.  Perhaps archeologists can discover the Rosetta Cup deep in some pyramid or other area to shed further light on the subject.

So there you have it, the pros and cons of souvenir cup collecting. It can be a relatively inexpensive way to bring home a little bit of that ballpark experience while providing much needed hydration during the game. Plus, the cups are stackable which certainly helps when it comes time to store them.

Now if you will excuse me, all of this talk about cups as made me thirsty and in need of some water.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Kissimmee Once, Kissimmee Twice

Tomorrow, February 14th, marks the arrival of Valentine’s Day.  Odds are if you are reading this on Wednesday, and not Thursday, it may not be too late to get that last minute gift for friends and loved ones alike.  If you procrastinated and are reading this after the 14th, than at least you have a head start on getting your gifts for next year.

While it is often joked about that Valentine’s Day is a made up holiday by greeting card companies, candy companies and florists, there is actually a historical reason behind St. Valentine’s Day.  While the actual origin story varies depending on who is telling it, one common version is that the day is based on one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus, or Valentine to you and me.

The common legend goes that Valentine was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.  While imprisoned, legend goes on to state that Valentine befriended the daughter of his jailer and before his execution he wrote “from your Valentine” as a farewell to her.  How much of that really happened, and how much was added throughout the centuries as the tale was told and told again, is certainly up for debate.  After all,  legends tend to grow the further out they are from the source material.  But as far as legends go I guess if one were so romantically inclined there are worse things to believe in.  Just don’t get me started on that flying arrow shooting guy.

So whether the origin totally occurred as written or not the celebrations were tweaked through the generations and flourished during the romantic period as one might expect until at long last we reached the 21st century version of St. Valentine’s Day.

Nothing says, "I love you" quite like a box of chocolates. Put those chocolates in a heart shaped box and she is putty in your hands. At least that is what the marketing people want us to believe.  photo R. Anderson

Nothing says, “I love you” quite like a box of chocolates. Put those chocolates in a heart shaped box and she is putty in your hands. At least that is what the marketing people want us to believe.
photo R. Anderson

In school classrooms across the country tomorrow, students will hand out their valentines to each other. Decades ago when I was a younger version of myself we used construction paper and other means to make our “mailbox” and then go around and deliver valentine’s to each of the classmates.  After counting up the bounty one always hoped to not be like Charlie Brown and be valentine free but to have a paper box brimming with tiny cardboard trinkets of affection.  As a rule I always made sure to have enough cards to go around for everyone in the class, but it seemed like not everyone followed that rule.  I am guessing the process still remains mostly the same as from when I was in school based on the amount of valentine’s cards I see at the stores each year, but who knows, maybe students just text each other  their well wishes now.

Aside from the greeting card and valentine printing businesses, this season also marks a busy time for businesses that sell flowers and chocolate as they tend to be part of the more grown up valentine experience.  Turn on the television or radio any time between mid-January to mid-February and one is bound to be bombarded with commercials for suggestions on what makes the perfect valentine’s gift for that special someone.

While the romantic aspects of Valentine’s Day are all well and good, the season also marks a time for professional baseball players to await messages of “Be Mine” and “I Choo Choo Choose You” as competition begins for one of those coveted spots on the 40 man Major League roster.

Much like those cardboard valentines of old, a spot on the roster says to the player that someone values them and in this case values them enough that they have a future with the club.  Of course, roster placement alone does not guarantee success and several factors are involved in the aspect of who stays and goes from a major league roster.  But, the fact remains that players on the roster tend to feel better about their future than players who are not on the roster.

With up to 75 players vying for 40 roster spots Spring Training uniforms tend to use numbers more often seen on the football field. Photo R. Anderson

With up to 75 players vying for for just 40 roster spots, Spring Training uniforms tend to use numbers more often seen on the football field than the baseball diamond.
Photo R. Anderson

For most teams the roster is mostly set at the start of spring training with a few positions here and there up for grabs through head to head competition.  One team however is taking a decidedly different approach to the roster process as they are in full blown rebuilding mode and no position seems set in stone.

That team is the Houston Astros whose process of selecting their “valentines” begins at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, FL.

Perhaps no other team in baseball has as many open competitions going as the Astros do.  With no clear identifiable stars on the roster, and a trade at will philosophy, one would be hard pressed to discern with any certainty who will comprise the opening day roster.

Plus, even if a player is fortunate enough to suit up on opening day there is no guarantee that they will finish the season in that position.  Over the past few seasons the Astros have had so much turmoil on the roster that very few players from the opening day roster remain the following season.  I really see no reason to think that the trend will be any different this year.

While catchers and pitchers have already reported, the rest of the team still has a few days before camp, and competition, starts for them.  Over the next month and half or so players on the bubble will try to show management why they are deserving of one of those precious roster spots.

Valentine's stuffed animals, like this sock monkey,  won't be the only things looking for a home this Valentine's Day as baseball players compete for roster spots. No team appears to have more spots available than the Houston Astros. Photo R. Anderson

Valentine’s stuffed animals, like this sock monkey, won’t be the only things looking for a home this Valentine’s Day as baseball players compete for roster spots. No team appears to have more spots available than the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

So as you celebrate your Valentine’s Day, in whatever manner you see fit, think of the baseball players who at this very moment are hanging their virtual Valentine mailbox on their lockers at spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona.

For some the mailbox will contain that invitation to join the club.  For others the valentine will bring bitter rejection and the prospect of waiting to try again next year.

Unlike in elementary school where the teacher tried to make sure everybody received at least one valentine, there are bound to be a lot of people feeling like Charlie Brown waiting at the mailbox for a valentine from the Little Red-Haired Girl in the coming weeks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see if I still remember how to make an old fashioned valentine mailbox.  I am bound to have some construction paper and paste around here somewhere.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Beach, Sand Beach

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s master spy James Bond’s debut on the silver screen. As part of the celebration there have been countless ceremonies and other specials to commemorate the event.

From Daniel Craig “parachuting” into the London Olympic Games with the Queen, to the planned tribute later this month at the Academy Awards, it is hard to argue that this is the year of Bond, James Bond.  With all of these activities and the DVD release of Skyfall tomorrow it seemed like a perfect time to focus on 007.

Some of the 23 James Bond movies. Photo by R. Anderson

Some of the 23 James Bond movies.
Photo by R. Anderson

Now, it would be easy to try and rank the men who have played James Bond on film. From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, and everyone in between, most people when asked have a favorite.  One common theory of Bond relativity is that a person’s favorite portrayal tends to coincide with whoever was Bond the first time that they watched.  For me, my first exposure to Bond occurred during the Roger Moore era.

Looking back now the Roger Moore movies were some of the campiest in the franchise. That is in no way speaking ill of them and in fact Sir Roger Moore himself as stated that he was in on the joke and wanted to play Bond in a campy manner with a wink and a nod to the audience.

In many ways Sean Connery and Daniel Craig portray a Bond that is truer to the source material than the Roger Moore installment.  Don’t get me wrong I enjoy Connery’s and Craig’s portrayals, but for whatever reason I still tend to picture Bond as Roger Moore.  I do not hold the same affinity for Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton.  I enjoy other films that Brosnan and Dalton are in but just do not care for them as Bond.  Timothy Dalton seemed to be trying too hard and Pierce Brosnan seemed like he wasn’t trying hard enough during their stints in the tuxedo. The final of the six men to play Bond, George Lazenby, gets an incomplete grade.  I thought that his turn as Bond was pleasant enough but it is hard to say with only one movie to go by.

After the list of favorite Bond actor is decided the next logical step that fans are likely to take is picking their favorite Bond girl.  In the early films one knew that there would be two Bond girls; the one that was the first to fall into the arms of Bond and the second more complex one.

It was a well known fact that, much like the person wearing the red shirt on the away team for the original Star Trek, the first Bond girl in each film would surely meet her demise in some cruel fashion shortly after exclaiming the phrase, “oh, James.”  The second Bond girl could be a baddy that was turned good by the power of Bond persuasion or someone else that we were led to believe won the heart of of James and would be seen in some sort of embrace as the credits rolled.  So, debate amongst yourselves and pick your favorite Bond girl. For me, that title goes to Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green in 2006’s Casino Royale.

One could also set up a list of best cars, gadgets, or villains.  There really is no end to the amount of debate that one can give to the subject.  This is one of the many reasons for the lasting appeal of James Bond.

But for our purposes let us focus on the beaches of Bond.  The mood for the appeal of the sea and the role exotic locations would play in the franchise was set early on in 1962’s Dr. No.  Ask anyone who has seen the movie and odds are they will recall Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean in her white bikini with a dagger strapped to her hip as the waves rushed onto the shore. So pivotal was that moment in the franchise years later the producers tried to recreate it with Halle Berry in Die Another Day. And since this is a new era for Bond the fans were given the chance to see Daniel Craig emerge from the surf in much the same way in Casino Royale.

Part of the recurrence of beaches in Bond movies goes back to the source material and Ian Fleming himself.  When Fleming was writing the novels that would inspire the film franchise he had a vacation home called Goldeneye in Jamaica.  This proximity to the tropical environment came through as  three of Fleming’s thirteen James Bond novels,  “Live and Let Die”, “Doctor No” and “The Man with the Golden Gun” have Jamaican settings.

Some of Ian Fleming's books. Photo R. Anderson

Some of Ian Fleming’s books.
Photo R. Anderson

Other beaches would follow in the films after Dr. No‘s Jamaican holiday.  In no particular order are several memorable beaches of bond.  Khao Phing Kan, Thailand in The Man With the Golden Gun, Holywell Bay, Cornwall, England, in Die Another Day, Praia do Guincho, near Cascais, Portugal, from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and One and Only Ocean Club, Bahamas from Casino Royale.

While the movies allowed the viewer to see the beaches the books allowed one to picture the beaches in their mind as they read along.  Arguments can be made either way regarding which is better as the debate over books versus films has raged on for decades if not longer.  For me I tend to prefer picturing things in my mind first and seeing them second.  But few can argue that the beaches of the films are truly spectacular and add to the visual story that is trying to be told.

And back to that first beach from Dr. No; you know the one that started it all.  It has of course been renamed James Bond Beach. No word on whether the sand is best shaken or stirred when it gets stuck in one’s swim trunks.  Now if you’ll excuse me I think it is time to update the passport and fly out to see some of these beaches in person.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Well, of All the Cheap Lousy Ways to Save a Buck

A few days ago the Houston Astros continued their fire sale and traded last year’s starting short stop for five minor leaguers, or “prospects.”  This is far from the first time that this has occurred but they are definitely into the marrow at this point since they stopped having meat on the bone a long time ago.

Of course, as with the previous salary dumping trades the team tried to spin it as part of their multi-year rebuilding program.  As part of the process the Astros are on pace to have the worst record in baseball for the third year in a row.  The team is trying to say all the right things about how the trades make them more competitive in a few years while allowing them to keep salaries in check as they try to build a competitive product.  Time will tell if their efforts are shown to be worth the sacrifice though.

The team’s activities of shedding more payroll then they are turning around and spending reminds me of a scene from the holiday classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  In the movie Clark W. Griswald is upset to learn that his boss, in an effort to save money, has eliminated the long standing Christmas bonus program and replaced it with a Jelly of the Month Club. And while, in Cousin Eddie’s words, the Jelly of the Month Club is the gift that keeps giving the whole year long it is not what Clark was expecting.  To make a long story short, Clark blows his top, Cousin Eddie kidnaps the penny pinching boss and the police bust the doors and windows down to try and recuse him.  Of course, in true movie fashion the boss learns the folly of his ways and reinstates the bonus program  since sometimes things look better on paper than they do in the real world.

So, on paper the Astros have this grand plan to build cheap and trade players that make too much money and lather, rinse, repeat, turn around and get more cheap players that can be traded for more prospects.  Now, on paper it seems like a winning formula but the reality is very few prospects will ever make it to the majors and there is something to be said for not turning over the full roster every year.  Further trades are bound to happen in the next few weeks and months as the Astros seem determined to field the best Minor League team that plays against Major League opponents.

The Astros will have a new league, new uniforms and the same committment to fielding the cheapest team they can when the 2013 season starts.  Photo R. Anderson

The Astros will have a new league, new uniforms and the same commitment to fielding the cheapest team they can when the 2013 season starts.
Photo R. Anderson

I have followed the Astros for around 10 years and have to admit that all of the roster moves have left me scratching my head trying to figure out who is and who is not on the team any more.  It has turned into some sort of comedy routine like the famous, “Who’s on First” Laurel and Hardy skit.  But unlike the skit this is as real as it gets.  I am not a fair weather fan by any means and I still support the team but even my loyalty is being tested by the management’s cavalier approach to sacrificing the present completely in the name of team building. I am sure it is difficult for the players as well to not know when they will be traded or when their next victory will occur. There really seem to be more losers than winners in the short term of this plan to go young and cheap.

This season will mark the first season in the American League for the Astros and instead of fielding a team of stars they are fielding a team of could be stars and may never will be stars. Major League Baseball seems perfectly fine with the salary saving measures.  Contrast MLB’s lack of response to the Astros fielding what could be called a non competitive team for the third straight season with how things are handled in the NBA.

A few months back the coach of the San Antonio Spurs decided that most of his star players could use a night off.  Unfortunately the team had a game scheduled with the Miami Heat instead of an off day.  Still, the coach stuck to his guns and sent the star players home early and played against the Heat with a roster of bench players.  Fans who had payed to see the superstars of the Spurs were livid. Some even sued for damages because they didn’t see the people that they paid to see.  The bench warmers actually played a competitive game but in the end the Heat won and the coach of the Spurs was fined by the league and reprimanded for not putting his best team on the court.

The Miami Marlins recently traded most of their stars away in a similar salary dump and were put on notice by the league as well. Yet, the Astros who are moving into one of the more competitive divisions in baseball are not receiving any warnings from the league for the quality product they are putting on the field.  Granted the Marlins are repeat offenders at dumping salaries at the end of each season but still they seem to field a way more competitive product than the Astros.

Another example of lousy ways to save a buck comes to us from the federal government and in particular a certain division of the government that shall not be named.  Yes, I know it is hard to believe that the government would try to save money since most of the news always covers the spending overages but there are always exceptions to every rule.

The failed centralized trash idea.  Some times an idea can stink in more ways than one. Photo R. Anderson

The failed centralized trash idea. Some times an idea can stink in more ways than one.
Photo R. Anderson

Around the first of the year it was decided by this particular government agency that in an effort to save money from purchasing individual trash can liners the custodial engineers would no longer pick up trash at individual desks.  Instead, several large trash cans were placed strategically around the building and people were responsible for taking their own trash to these collection points.  It was believed that this process could be done with fewer people as well which would lead to additional cost savings.  On paper it seemed like a sound idea.  In reality it was one very smelly issue.  The cans were only emptied twice a week so the halls became littered with overflowing trash and a stench that one should really not encounter in an office building.

After a month of centralized trash, logic prevailed and the desk side trash pick up was resumed. It seemed that the powers that be decided that saving a buck that way was not worth the stench that it caused.  Here’s to hoping that the Astros realize the same thing and do not put a stinker of a team on the field. Although, the past two seasons do not leave a warm and fuzzy feeling that it will happen.  Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about trash has reminded me that it is time to take out the garbage.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

With Great Fame Comes Great Responsibility; or Does It?

We are a society that enjoys placing people on pedestals.  Whether it is actors, athletes,  or any number of other categories, people who possess certain skills are often elevated above the rest.  As long as the elevated people behave in the manner that the masses below expect there are no issues. But, once they start to slip, the lofty spot gets a little wobbly ahead of the inevitable crash back down to earth.

As a youngster I had a few role models/heroes from the Baltimore Orioles.  I would watch these players and coaches on the television each night and all I knew of them was the persona that was projected through the broadcast.  These were the pre internet years and still part of the time when the media didn’t feel the need to report every aspect of a person’s private life. So the elements that were broadcast were largely related to actual performance on the field.  If a player happened to go home with someone other than his wife after a game, or went to a bar until it closed, it was not blasted across the sports section the next day.

The media considered it their job to cover the game between the lines and anything else was considered a personal matter between the player and his family and not something to be broadcast across the wire for the world to see.  This relationship tended to bond the players and the media together as did the countless hours that the media spent traveling with the players.  It was not that the reporters were withholding information from the public, it was that they respected that the athletes were flawed people like the rest of us and there was no need to air dirty laundry that was not related to their jobs.

Sadly by the time I entered the profession the 24-hour news cycle was already in place and the players lost some of their privacy forcing reporters to dig deeper into stories that were not really stories leading to a tabloidization of the sports section.  I would love to think that we would grow tired of trash journalism and return to a more noble way to handle things. Sadly, that genie has been out of the bottle for far too long to go back now. Adding to the difficulty of returning to simpler times is the fact that we have generations of people who don’t know any other way to do things.

Frank Robinson at Tinker Field 1986

Frank Robinson at Tinker Field in Orlando, Fl. in 1986
Photo S. Quandt

A few years back, okay a decade or two back, my mother picked me up from school to go see a Spring Training game for my birthday.  This particular game featured the Baltimore Orioles and the Minnesota Twins.  We arrived early at the ballpark and as we were reaching our seats Hall of Famer Frank Robinson came out to the wall where people were signing autographs.  I took my game program over and waited to get his signature. Instead of moving through the line of children that were waiting Mr. Robinson proceeded to flirt with a pair of women and totally ignored the waiting children.  And while this event happened over 25 years ago the memory is still as fresh today as it was then.  While Frank Robinson had every right to not sign the autographs, the manner in which he left me and the other kids waiting left a lot to be desired.  He could have just said, “sorry kids, I don’t sign autographs” and we would have gone back to our seats but for this “role model” to totally ignore his fans was not the best way to handle things.

Actress Natalie Portman has famously said on numerous occasions that she is not a role model and that her celebrity alone for doing her job does not make her feel any additional pressure or responsibility to all of the people who look up to her.  While Natalie is right, what is it that makes people look up to celebrities and athletes and consider them role models?  For me, I consider a ball player who plays the game the right way and doesn’t get caught up in scandal a person I can respect.  Of course it is getting harder and harder to know who to respect as there are almost daily reports of players who were caught or suspected of using steroids and other banned substances to get an advantage over the competition.

Often times it is a no brainer to catch the cheaters.  There was never any doubt in my mind that Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and Alex Rodriguez had a slight advantage that perhaps was pharmaceutical based when they were posting their monster numbers and crashing through the record books like a runaway train.  While certain players make it easy to determine guilt or innocence through failed drug tests and other means the line between guilty or not guilty of Performance Enhancing Drugs, or PED use is a little murkier for some.

Another player caught up in the web of suspicion of using  PED’s was Roger Clemens.  While only “The Rocket” knows for sure what he did and didn’t take, I, and a federal jury, do not believe that he took anything that was illegal to gain an advantage.  Do I think that he is a good role model?  Not really based on some of his off field activities. Despite not considering Roger Clemens a role model,  I do respect the way he played the game and the dominance that he showed for decades.  Despite being cleared by a jury in a perjury trial Roger Clemens will face an uphill climb in his bid to gain entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Logic says that based on his career numbers and the legal victory he should be a lock for Cooperstown.  But after failing to gain entry on the first ballot it appears the voters have a different take on the matter and the guilty by association tag will follow him for years to come.

Photo R. Anderson

Cal Ripken, Jr. at Baseball City Stadium in 1991.
Photo R. Anderson

One player that I followed that always seemed to play the game the right way, and never got into any controversy was Cal Ripken, Jr.  Cal was the longtime shortstop and third baseman for the Orioles.  Cal played all of his 21 seasons with the Orioles and became known as “The Iron Man” for breaking Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old record of 2,130 consecutive games in 1995 and playing in 2,632 consecutive games overall before missing a game for the first time in 1998.

To put things in proper perspective from 1981 to 1998 Cal Ripken, Jr. did not miss a single day of work. Granted, work consisted of playing baseball from April to September so one could argue he had around half of the year off.  Still, I am not sure there are many people in any profession that can say that they have gone that long without missing work for vacation or sick days, etc.  So I looked up to him for the way he played the game and the quiet manner in which he approached things while amassing some huge numbers for his position. Cal Ripken, Jr. has also written several books on how to play the game and in his retirement is active in placing ballparks in underprivileged areas to ensure that everyone has access to quality baseball fields.

So do players and other celebrities bare a responsibility to be role models?  It is hard to say. Is Natalie Portman correct in her assessment that she just does a job and people need to leave her alone or should ballplayers and other celebrities be expected to be more like Cal Ripken, Jr. and continue to give back after their playing days are done? I like to think that players would want to be someone that is worth looking up to but I also know it is the media and the public’s responsibility to identify people who are worth emulating, and those who have behavior traits that should be ignored.

Do I realistically think that this approach will ever come to pass?  I like to think that I am optimistic about most things but must admit a large dose of pessimism on that regard.  It seems we have now entered a phase where pedestals are built to be broken and while we tend to honor people who build themselves back up after the fall it also seems like many people are knocked down just for sport and the people who just go about their business without drawing excessive attention to themselves are ignored.  Now if you’ll excuse me I think younger me needs to come to terms with Frank Robinson giving him the brush off.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

I Like Cheese and Other Post Super Bowl Observations

Well, another Super Bowl has come and gone with the Baltimore Ravens defeating the San Fransisco 49ers  by a score of 34 to 31 yesterday.  While the game was exciting and included a nearly 40-minute power outage and a preemptive clock zapping safety it is nothing compared to the excitement that occurred as part of the massive amounts of TV-tray-gating that went on during the game.   Worldwide the Super Bowl has become a time to gather and to eat lots and lots of snacks, many of which only taste good during the viewing of the Super Bowl.  I am not sure if a scientific study has yet concluded that but it certainly appears to be the case in my experience.

I have always been the type to enjoy a big tray of meats and cheese during the big game but I must admit I went even further beyond my over the top standards this year.  When you are getting your party trays at Sam’s Club and they mention that the tray serves 8-10 people and you have no where near that many people at your party, you know you are going overboard.  When you have three of those trays, plus assorted chips, dips, King Cake, and little smokies; that takes things to a whole other level. That level is almost to the point of getting a knock on the door from a film crew from the A&E Network to either discuss food hoarding or to stage an intervention.  Thankfully no one from A&E stopped by during the game but if they did there would have been plenty of food to share.


Part of the Super Spread as part of the Super Bowl festivities.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of the reason for going over the top this year was in honor of the Baltimore Ravens and the over the top manner in which they made the Super Bowl.  Against crazy odds the Ravens made the Super Bowl in bold fashion by defeating two of the game’s best quarterbacks on their own home turf.  While most teams would see a road to the Super Bowl that went through both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady a challenge, the Ravens seemed to laugh in the face of those odds.  In the end the Ravens defeated both Manning’s Denver Broncos and Brady’s New England Patriots to earn their way into the second Super Bowl in team history. Even a momentum zapping power outage in the Superdome did not seem to dampen the Ravens’ spirits for long.  I have heard it said that the Ravens were a team of destiny this year and that the Super Bowl win merely makes that point clear. While I am not sure about the whole team of destiny label, I do know that the Ravens were a team that played with heart and seemed prepared to handle all of the obstacles that were put in front of them.


A closer look at some of the salty cheese and meat snacks that were part of the Super Bowl feast.
Photo R. Anderson

One reason for the Ravens’ resilience is Ray Lewis, the defensive leader and heart and soul of the team.   Lewis had announced that he would be retiring at the end of the year after spending 17 seasons with the Ravens.   Much like John Elway and Jerome Bettis before him, Ray Lewis was able to end his career with one last Super Bowl title before heading off into the sunset. Lewis already won a Super Bowl title in 2000 but with the win last night he became the record holder for the most seasons between Super Bowl victories.

Regarding that power outage that seemed to momentarily take the wind out of the Ravens and give the 49ers a chance to catch their breath there are bound to be conspiracy theorists who want to believe that the power outage was in direct response to the NFL commissioner suspending the Saints’ coach and assorted players during the season for the “Bountygate” scandal.   For weeks leading up to the game there was wide speculation regarding how the commissioner would be welcomed in New Orleans and cutting power to half of the stadium while billions of people were glued to their television sets very well would be a way to stick it to him.  But, I really find it hard to believe that such a feat would be accomplished since really all that would show would be an aging facility that has power issues. In no way would it really be indicative of sending a message to the commissioner.  Now if the lights had spelled out some sort of cyrptic pro Saints message when they came back up then maybe I could get behind the conspiracy theory.  Short of that smoking gun though I, and most rationale people, will chalk it up to just one of those random things that can happen during the game.

Once the lights returned the 49ers did stage one of those comebacks that they have been known for and erased much of the Ravens’ lead. Still, when push came to shove the Raven defense did what Ravens’ defenses have done for years and that is clamp down in the red zone and dare the other team to try to score.  While the on field action remained competitive, as is the case with the Super Bowl each year, there were commercials aplenty to watch when the action on the field was paused. Some of the commercials tugged at the heart strings (hello horse ad) and some made people laugh (beware the roving gangs of senior citizens at night).  There did not seem to be as many memorable commercials as in year’s past but those that were memorable certainly raised the bar.

There were many other stories of overcoming obstacles last night for both teams but their battles weren’t limited to the space between the lines.  I fought my own battles with the Super feast and trying to not eat more than my weight in salty snacks.  I accomplished that goal for the most part but I do not believe there is a trophy that gets hoisted for that.  Now if you’ll excuse me I think I hear the cheese tray calling me from my fridge.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

A Super Game

Chances are, unless you live in an area that has absolutely no access to newspapers, television, radio or the internet (at which case you would most likely not be reading this) you know that this Sunday, February 3, 2013, marks a special occasion for sports fans across the globe.  This Sunday will mark the 47th, or for you Latin speakers and tiny Roman pizza mascots out there the  XLVII, edition of the big showdown pitting the best of the American Football Conference against the best of the National Football Conference in a little game called the Super Bowl.  This year the Super Bowl is in New Orleans and will pit the Baltimore Ravens, coached by John Harbaugh, against the San Fransisco 49ers, coached by Jim Harbaugh, in the battle for the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy.  From its humble beginnings in 1967 to the juggernaut it has become today, the Super Bowl is one of, if not the, most watched sporting events of the calendar year and captures the interest of both hardcore and casual fan alike.

While I am primarily a baseball fan, I do enjoy football as well and have watched every Super Bowl for as long as I can remember.  While most of those games were viewed in one form or another from a couch and involved eating lots of little smokies, cheese and other assorted snacks, there was one game that occurred nine years ago today where I was fortunate enough to go from being a Super Bowl fan to a Super Bowl reporter. In 2004 I was given the opportunity to go behind the curtain as it were to see what makes the big game tick.  I was the sports editor for a small daily newspaper in the suburbs of Houston at the time and just for fun I decided to apply for media credentials when I heard that the Super Bowl would be in town that year.  Much to my surprise a few weeks after applying I was awarded full access credentials for the game and all of the surrounding festivities.  Thus begin a week I will not soon forget.

While I had always guessed that covering the big game would be special I had no idea how special of a time it would be.  For starters the game on Sunday is merely the culmination and finale of a week of festivities that features players and coaches from the past and present mingling with reporters in a variety of situations.  Covering Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston included several I can’t believe I just did that moments including interviewing Bret Farve and seeing several of the players from the Washington Redskins that I grew up watching as a youngster.  Even if that were all the Super Week excitement, it would have been plenty but there was much more to behold.  Each day included question and answer sessions as well as a media work room stocked full of all of the essentials that the working reporter needed to file their stories; from media guides to free Power Ade and more.  I had covered many sporting events up until that point but this was the grand daddy of them all and the NFL definitely knew how to treat reporters on its biggest stage.  If you were a reporter and could think of it, chances are it was somewhere within arms length in the building.

Photo R. Anderson

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum home of the first AFC vs. NFC Championship game in 1967. In later years the game would come to be known as the Super Bowl.
Photo R. Anderson

I doubt very much that those players in the first AFC vs. NFC Championship game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum back in 1967 had any idea how big the game would become.   In addition to the game on the field billions upon billions of dollars are spent each year in advertising during the game and the ever increasing hours of pregame coverage leading up to it.  I minored in advertising in college and am probably one of the few people who actually enjoys commercial breaks almost as much as the normal show I am watching.  So, the Super Bowl, where advertisers put their best foot forward to one up each other and try to introduce that one advertisement that will be the talk of the water cooler on Monday, provides an extra thrill for the most seasoned as well as the most novice of advertising consumers.

Speaking of extra thrills, the NFL does not leave the reporters out when it comes to ensuring that their game day experience is ideal.  In addition to a free game day breakfast, food is provided throughout the day for reporters working the game.  What’s that you say, you are a reporter who has been at the stadium several hours before kickoff and you are afraid that the rigid plastic stadium seat will lead to health problems including numbness in the posterior region if you sit on it any longer;  don’t worry the NFL has that covered as well with a reporter game day survival kit or “goodie bag.” I can only speak for the game I covered but I am sure there are similar goodie bags each year.  My goodie bag at the game included an attache case, a mini radio, a seat cushion, a note pad, a hat, and a pin that was a model of Reliant Stadium complete with retractable roof.  And of course, each of these items was emblazoned with the logo for the game lest anyone get confused about where they came from.  Having worked in both public relations and sports information I know that the goodie bags are a way for the NFL to try to ensure that the reporters are happy and in turn write more positive things about them.  The reporters know this and the NFL knows that the reporters know this.  The good reporters are not swayed by the goodie bags and free baubles that the NFL provides them but don’t get me wrong free baubles are always nice.  Plus, after awhile that seat cushion really comes in handy for even the most seasoned of reporter rumps that are used to sitting in bleachers and stadium seats for hours at a time.

A selection of some of the "freebies" ended out to reporters covering the Super Bowl. Photo R. Anderson

A selection of some of the “freebies” handed out to reporters covering the Super Bowl.
Photo R. Anderson

So it is Super Bowl time again and reporters have descended upon New Orleans a week early to try and get every angle they can about the players as well as the fans.  This year the pregame coverage will no doubt focus on the fact that there are brothers coaching against each other for the first time in the big game. Other story lines will include the retirement of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and the fact that the Saints failed in their bid to be the first team to play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium.  Sure, there will be other stories as well as the network tries to squeeze six hours or more of interesting stories on the air ahead of the game but those will probably be the big ones.  After all, the longer the pregame, the more ads, and in turn the more money the network makes.  This is big business after all.

So on Sunday when you curl up on the couch, or other viewing venue, to catch the big game think of the reporters who have labored tirelessly all week to cover it. And also think that at that very moment many of them are sitting high up in the rafters of the Superdome on a comfy seat cushion listening to the coverage on a little radio and jotting things down in a notepad that the NFL gave them.  Covering Super Bowls is certainly good work if you can get it and for one magical week back in 2004 I lived the dream of every sports reporter.  A year after my Super Bowl experience I almost hit the daily double of big ticket sports reporting but I missed my chance to cover the Major League Baseball All-Star game due to a reduction in the work force at the newspaper I was working at.  I would have loved to cover the All Star Game and compare how Major League Baseball and the NFL differ in handling their showcase events but I really have no regrets and can’t complain about missing that opportunity.  Who knows, maybe I will yet get to cover an All-Star Game.  But, for one whole week I was a Super Bowl reporter and I have the press badge and various freebies to prove it. Even nine years later I still consider that pretty cool.  Now if you’ll excuse me I think I will dust off that Super Bowl XXXVIII seat cushion for old times sake since all of this typing and sitting really has my lower back a little sore.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson