GIFs of Baseball Pitches (or Why I Love Baseball)

I love baseball. You would have to ask my mom why I love baseball so much, but it started when I was 6-ish and hasn’t really let up. Some baseball fans love it for the statistics, and you might think that the geeky numbers part is what attracted me. Well, I honestly don’t watch as much baseball as I would like and have mostly followed baseball through box scores and statistics, but I really think I enjoy baseball mostly for watching it.

Let me make things even more confusing. If you go to a baseball game with me, you will likely end up listening to me joke about how boring it is to watch, and how ridiculous the rules are. I also won’t get too excited about big comebacks or my team winning. These things are all nice, but they aren’t the most exciting parts about baseball.

The best part of baseball is the amazing skills the players have honed. It turns out some baseball players are quite out of shape but still effective because they have particularly quick reflexes or can swing a bat well. The topic of this post, however, is going to be pitching, which I will explain in words and GIFs as best as I can having never pitched in my life. Continue reading “GIFs of Baseball Pitches (or Why I Love Baseball)”

Fantasy Football and Friends

I had never been so concerned about athletes, many of whom I have never even seen, before I joined a fantasy football league this season. For the past 4 months, my fantasy roster replaced my email inbox as the focus of constant checking for changes that rarely happens. I was concerned that fantasy football would become a big distraction in my life, and it did, but I can’t wait for next season to start.

For the uninitiated, fantasy sports make users the owner of a fantasy team from some real, professional sport. Each season, you and a group of other owners (typically 10 total in fantasy football) form a league and draft players onto your team. For each game day, you set your lineup of players, and your team’s performance is determined by the actual players’ performance in real life. By scoring various outcomes from the actual games, your fantasy team accumulates points, which determine how well you did in a week. A common structure for leagues is “head-to-head” matchups each week, where you and another team play each other, and the team with the higher score that week wins. This process lasts all season, and some system determines the winner. Along the way, team owners trade players, “sign” free agents, and tweak their rosters based on news, statistics, predictions, superstitions, and wild guesses to do the best they can.

Currently, the NFL is in playoffs, which is the end of the fantasy season. My team finished 2nd during the regular season after 13 weeks and ended up 4th in the playoffs*. And despite looking over player rankings again and again, I still know little about the NFL. I have strong opinions about players who I have never seen play before, but I don’t how well their teams are doing or who their defense or coach is. I’m not sure whether that is ever going to change: I didn’t watch NFL games before this season, and I avoided watching this season because I would be too anxious about fantasy.

Still, it’s been a great way to keep up with friends. Most of them are in the area, so we have something to talk about regularly, but it has also been the start of a few random email threads with friends hundreds of miles away as well. We could keep in touch for its own sake, but we don’t. We could just talk sports and pop culture, but we don’t. When we turn it into a activity, however, then we have context to push us towards talking, and then everything is great.

Technology has made this easier than ever. A few weeks ago, I played StarCraft: Brood War with friends from high school while chatting on Skype. A few months ago, I played Dungeons & Dragons with some other friends around the world over Google Plus. Despite my concern about the internet giving us a shallow feeling of connectedness, it can also be the platform for us to engage in activities that we would rather do in-person but can’t. It seems ridiculous to think that it was not so long ago that fantasy football drafts were done on paper in a living room, but we now have the tools to score games and coordinate player transactions in real-time.

Earlier this season, I questioned whether I wanted to come back for another season. Fantasy football is certainly fun, but it’s a big distraction even when I’m not staring at my bench. I can think endlessly about how to optimize my team’s performance, and there’s always more data in statistics and footage to obsess over. Maybe it’s pointlessly addictive, but as long as my friends are there too, it’ll probably be worth it.

* Congratulations on Alex for winning and George for being the narrow 2nd place. Say what you will about luck: those guys deserved it.

Crumbs

I have a few things to share that I considered writing full posts on. When I thought through the result, however, the result would likely be tedious and overanalyzed, so I’m bunching them instead.

Return to Baldur’s Gate

My favorite video game series is Baldur’s Gate, and the first game has been re-released as “Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition” by a new team doing an overhaul. The updates are minor, though, and the real benefit is a reason to play the game again. It’s a roleplaying game based on the rules of Dungeons & Dragons where you control an adventuring party of humans, dwarves, elves, and the like to go on quests, kill monsters, and follow along the main story.

A lot of my enthusiasm for the game is nostalgia, but the game is works differently than RPGs being developed today. One trend recently has been more towards action RPGs, which rely more on twitchy reflexes to hit monsters or trigger abilities. Another trend has been towards open worlds and customization, where you can freely explore expansive planets and countrysides and play the game as you like. For me, both of these changes result in less interesting gameplay. Action RPGs often become repetitive as you find one way to kill monsters and do it over and over. Open worlds tend to have more bland interactions since the game can’t refine a particular path to something unique.

I would describe Baldur’s Gate more, but I think it would be more meaningful if you just found a gameplay video online somewhere if you really care. Definitely give it a shot if either of my thoughts above resonates with you.

Superstition at the Pac-12 Championship Game

Stanford football will be returning to the Rose Bowl this season after a hard-fought game against UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship. Thanks to my friends who are better fans than I am, I did end up attending the game, which was nerve-wracking enough to make it worth watching in-person.

We had just played UCLA the week before and won by a large margin, but this game was more back-and-forth. Through the first 3 quarters, I became very superstitious. Somehow, I determined that things were going better for us when I had my raincoat on instead of off. Then I determined that my raincoat just favored the team on offense, so I was taking it on and off a lot. Then I determined that I had actually gotten it backwards and needed my raincoat off.

At some point in the second half, I realized that my sudden superstition was really just me exhibiting anxiety about the game. In a scary situation where we might have come so close to the Rose Bowl and then lost it, I was trying to find something that I could control and change the result in my favor. Until then, I didn’t trust the team to do it on their own, and that was a problem, so for the rest of the game, I left my raincoat on and put my confidence in the team. That was confidence well-placed.

Benefits of Living Alone

My place is still mostly unfurnished at the moment, which means that I’m not in a position to be welcoming roommates yet. It’s strange, but it’s also liberating to be entirely and only responsible to myself in my living space. Here are a few things I have been able to do that I would be able to otherwise:

  • Leaving candy wrappers on the floor because no one else is around to step on them or get annoyed
  • Moving an end table into the washroom for 10 minutes so I can use my laptop while on the john
  • Never closing my bedroom door, even when I’m sleeping
  • Dragging my mattress into my living room to lie in bed and watch StarCraft being projected onto a blank wall, then going to bed

Overall, it’s not that bad, though I may become very eccentric if left alone for too long.

Digging into the Stanford-Oregon Outcome

(I started this Sunday but didn’t finish it until today)

Before the football game started yesterday, I was certain that #13 Stanford was going lose to #2 Oregon. I had watched our team go into the Oregon game with high hopes the two previous years and been flustered by their strategy and burned by their speed. Despite promising play from Kevin Hogan, our new quarterback, and solid defense all season, I didn’t see anything to make me feel significantly better about our chances than previous years. I was certain we would lose big. Just as certain as us losing to USC earlier this season.

If you were unaware, I was completely wrong about this as we won in overtime, 17-14. This was one of the best games I have watched, and it has a much larger impact than just adding a win for our team. It changes the possibilities for the national championship game. After then #1 Alabama lost to Texas A&M las week, the remaining three undefeated teams (Oregon, Kansas State, and Notre Dame) became the frontrunners for one of those 2 slots to go to the national championship game and win it all. After ‘Bama lost, there was outcry about the rankings among them since the #3 team presumably would be left out.

That thinking was premature as Oregon lost to us and Kansas State lost to Baylor. Notre Dame slid up to #1, and the championship berth is their’s to lose. More surprisingly, ‘Bama is back at #2, which is a tremendous turnaround from the belief that their dreams were over after the loss to Texas A&M. I’m honestly somewhat disappointed to see a SEC team (‘Bama) back in the championship game because the SEC is an overrated conference, in my opinion. Although they’re the best, I don’t think the PAC-12 gets the respect it deserves in conversation. Still, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. There are still 2 weeks of games left, and this all is only big news because we made assumptions about how the rest of the games would happen.

Setting aside the national impact, this game was huge for Stanford because it was an upset. Since I had already assumed that Stanford would lose to Oregon, our only shot at Rose Bowl would be a win over UCLA this upcoming week and the good graces of BCS organizers to pick Stanford for the Rose Bowl (in that scenario, Oregon finishes undefeated and goes to the national championship game). Now, we “control our own destiny” and can make it to the Rose Bowl by defeating UCLA this upcoming weekend and then again in the PAC-12 championship game the week after. The season after our star quarterback Andrew Luck left, it’s quite surprising to see us in the hunt again.

It’s been a rough season for Stanford fans, but as my friend George points out, it’s only because we’re extremely fair-weathered fans. 2 games into the season, fans were down about the prospects of the season, despite having won both of those games. We were reenergized after beating USC, then feeling terrible again after losing to Washington. We’re now quite excited after beating Oregon, but a loss soon could lead to a lot of disappointment despite a very good season. This fickleness shows that our fan base is neither strong nor mature. It’s surprising when a now top 10 team can’t fill the stadium. For homecoming.

There are the usual excuses. Stanford excels in athletics, but its students are largely more academically focused. Palo Alto doesn’t have the composition that leads to great devotion to local sports teams. A few years of mediocrity before our recent rise kills a lot of spirit. Being a fan, however, is sticking through all of that and appreciating the results as they come.

Even more narrowly than the team is the best part of the outcome: redemption for our sophomore kicker, Jordan Williamson. Williamson went into the Fiesta Bowl last season 13/16 (81%) on field goals. At the Fiesta Bowl, under the most pressure, he went 0/3, including critical misses at the end that would’ve won us the game. For his final kick, I still had complete faith he would make it since he had been “lights out” all season. He didn’t, and we lost.

Prior to this game, he was 12/20 (60%) this season. For the fans, it has felt far worse, and an unreliable kicker is extremely stressful. It’s even more stressful for the kicker, and given his performance last year, it seemed like he was still carrying the guilt of the Fiesta Bowl loss, and it has costed us a game this season. Still, there’s nothing else I could do as a fan than offer complete support in his ability. In overtime, Williamson lined up for a game-winning field goal, and I knew he would make it. And he did.

Not everyone has forgiven Williamson for the Fiesta Bowl, but I did a long time ago, and that kick demonstrated that he can kick under pressure. In a game-winning situation in one of the toughest stadiums (Autzen Stadium) against the second best team in the country, he delivered, not only for the team, but for himself. Placekickers in football are only placed in often unexpected, but almost always high-pressure situations, and mental preparedness is key. I hope he can carry on and returns to his old form again.

I’m not an athlete, though I played and play many sports. I’m not a face-painting, die-hard fan, but I certainly feel the ups and downs. In some ways, following sports is somewhat pointless: the same things happen year after year, there’s a lot of thought spent on something that doesn’t meaningfully progress the world (at a high level), and it tends to bring out the worst in us. However, sports also show us how assumptions can lead to the wrong places, what the meaning of devotion is, what redemption can mean, and more. Sports are an opportunity for us to face the challenges of real life in a safe environment, and maybe the lessons can help outside the sidelines as well.

My Stanford-USC Game Day

It’s 8AM, and I don’t want to get up. I’m supposed to be at the Band Shak between 9 and 9:30, so I should leave and bike to Stanford by 8:45. It’ll take maybe 10 minutes to get ready, so I should be done with breakfast by 8:35. And I have oatmeal in the fridge, so maybe another 20 minutes to eat breakfast and digest, which puts me at 8:15. I set my alarm for 8:05 and flop back into my pillow.

I park my bike near the stadium since I know there are spots there and am uncertain whether there are more any closer to the Shak. As I walk over, I check the time and see that I have plenty of time, and other band members still haven’t left for rehearsal. Walking past the bike parking spots beside the Band Shak door, I head up to the second floor to put my backpack down and grab a sousaphone. None of the other “toobz” are there, so I wait to take my instrument off the hook and relax after my bike ride and before the morning rehearsal.

The morning rehearsal is mostly the same as the first rehearsal I went to on Wednesday. We warm up by playing another chart that I have difficulty finding in the flip folder I was given. So far, the music hasn’t been too tough. Playing tuba is actually quite lucky in this circumstance since tubas often get repetitive bass lines, so once I learn the fingerings and rhythms of 2 bars, I can play more than half of a song. A very nice bari sax player keeps me

Giancarlo, the director of the Wind Ensemble, next rehearses the national anthem with us. I witness the trumpet soloist having his focus tested in a very disturbing manner and am only somewhat comforted to know that I have now seen a band tradition happen. We play the national anthem, which mostly goes well. Giancarlo singles out the tubas as slowing down through one measure, insisting that we need to “watch [his] hands, not listen”. Garrett, the section leader, is very confident that he was watching, and from where I am, I agree. Maybe there are some phasing issues since we’re at the back of the band. After he runs through the measure a few times with us, we play it one last time, then move on to rehearsing the show.

Well, almost. The saxes are currently following our drum major around the practice field while seeming to improvise a little diddy. Ben, a former roommate and longtime band member, wanders over and wonders out loud whether they plan these sort of distractions. For coming together spontaneously, they sound really good.

Rehearsing the field show goes roughly like how I remembered. We receive printouts of the formation and move between them as necessary. The obvious difference from high school is that the LSJUMB is a scatter band, not a traditional marching band, so we don’t need to practice marching between the formations as much. Even so, we move, play, move, play, and run the show over a few times to work on details. We get some direction from the guys on top of the tower about staying together as we play, moving people around to make the formations look better, and other details. It all feels pretty familiar.

That is probably also helped by the marching we actually have in this show. The USC Trojan Marching Band is a traditional marching band with all of the unnecessary flourishes. Their band can cover the whole field (and even has reserves because there are so many), sometimes marches knees high, and is led by a guy dressed in armor. As part of our show, half of the band participates in the “Spirit of Stanford” band, which marches onto the field, knees high and instruments swinging, in a box while playing our own take on “Tribute to Troy”. I not very reluctantly offer to participate in this half of the band.

The last run-through is a little rough. We’ve been rehearsing for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, and I’m remembering all of the aches of playing. My lips are tired, and I’m cracking more notes that I can’t quite hang onto. I’m trying to keep the sousaphone rested on my right shoulder as much as possible so that it hurts the least while playing. I’m skipping most of the playing by now, only playing when it’s an exposed part.

We break and are told to come back in 2 or 3 hours for pre-game activities. I head over to Ike’s to meet up with my usual football-going gang. Although this game is certainly all sold out, we all have season tickets and are very excited for the game. I’m convinced we’re going to lose. More convinced than perhaps ever before. When we weren’t as good when I was an underclassmen, any game could be a pleasant surprise. When I was an upperclassmen, we were good enough to challenge any team. This year, however, we seem to have taken a step back into the 10-25ish range, while USC has a Heisman-hopeful QB and two of the best wide receivers around. We’re good, and I think we’ll challenge them this game, but I don’t see us pulling through. Still, my eggplant sandwich is very good.

Having already picked up my vest after rehearsal, I only need to get a hat and tie to complete my uniform. Garrett hands me an extra tie as I button up my white shirt. The tie has dollar bills printed on it. Did I mention we’re playing USC today?

We walk over to the Alumni Center where we rank up. I expect the toobz to move to the back of the band, but instead, my section seems to be in front of everyone. The bari sax player explains that we give everyone high fives as they march past, then form up behind them. I get lots of high fives, fall in, and move towards the stadium with the rest of the band. This also is very reminiscent: although we aren’t all marching in pairs and precisely in time, there are lots of cheers and small dance moves as we go. Suddenly, Garrett starts counting down, and the section scatters. I begin running too, vaguely following some of the others who are darting in-between (mostly) stopped cars. I keep looking around, hoping I don’t miss the cue to rank up again. I make it back without injury though slightly out of breath.

We form arcs just outside some of the tailgaters and begin playing. The next song is indicated with a signal, often cryptic, just like the flip folder titles. Although I can only find about a fourth of the songs, I manage to make it through anyways by watching the fingers of the other toobz. This, however, becomes much harder when we’re supposed to wander into the crowd. It’s also much harder to improvise my part when there are 5 others around me playing over my mistakes.

We play at another couple tailgates, and it all goes by in a flash. There was another song where we needed to wander into the crowd, though I figured out that part pretty quickly. I miss a lot more notes and play in a few places when I’m not supposed to. I’m beginning to see why the band doesn’t always sound great: people like me legitimately don’t know what’s going on half the time. I guess I can’t complain too much about it, though, now that I’m the problem. Besides, were the band stricter, I couldn’t have joined on a whim and perform a few days later. Amidst all of my confusion, the other toobz help me out a lot, and it’s a ton of fun. There’s a lot of dancing going on, and I try to copy, though I don’t think I quite have all of the moves figured out as the rest of the section does. There’s a lot of energy, and it’s great to be playing again.

After a break, we’ve entered the stadium. The national anthem goes fine, and the Trojan band performs their pregame show first. Watching them on the field, I’m actually not very impressed. Their formations and marching aren’t difficult, and they don’t actually look very good from the sideline. And given their size, their not the wall of sound I was expecting. Meanwhile, the band around me is heckling them. I don’t really get into that but am amused anyways.

We run on for our pregame show. This experience is actually one of the calmer parts of the day because for 10 minutes, I know exactly what is supposed to happen. I actually still don’t know what the show was about, but I get everywhere I’m supposed to be and play the right cuts.

The game is finally starting. After years of lazy days leading up to game time, I can’t believe how much I have already done before kickoff. The first quarter goes by, and it feels fine. The offense doesn’t look great, but our defense appears to hold well, and we’re tied. In the meantime, I think I’ve missed almost every song we play in the stands. I actually have missed at least the beginning of most songs today. The song gets called out, then I need to ask someone what it is, then I put the sousaphone on, then I fish my mouthpiece out of my pocket, then I unsuccessfully look for the music in my flip folder, and look at that: we’ve already 10 bars in. I guess I’ll just watch the fingers of the guy next to me and listen to figure it out.

It’s halftime, and we’re on the field again. There’s another uninspiring performance by the Trojan Band, and then it’s our turn. I march on with the “Spirit of Stanford” band, trying to high step (though I was later told by my friends that I wasn’t doing it close to the same degree as anyone else). At the beginning of the next song with a loud opening for the 3 toobz on the “Spirit of Stanford” side, I horribly crack one of the notes. My lips don’t feel bad, but I’m definitely tired after the morning rehearsal and pregame shenanigans. I resolve to play the rest of the notes with sforzando.

I scatter at the end of the last song, then remember that I was supposed to skip off the field. Whoops.

We form up around the tunnel as the football team reenters the field. The “William Tell Overture” is next, and it’s actually really hard as we’re moving quickly to our corner, and I can’t see our drum major or hear anyone. In the future, I’ll reserve all criticism for how it sounds.

We get food vouchers after half-time, and I get food. While eating the garlic fries, I feel like a normal fan for a few minutes. The game appears to be going well, though it’s been very low scoring.

We have the ball back with about 8 minutes left on the clock and up by a touchdown. The clock cannot possibly count down fast enough, but we’re definitely burning up the rest of the time. We get a few first downs, though we do stall. The Trojans get the ball back deep in their own territory with just a few minutes left.

Sack. Sack. Incomplete pass. I, along with most of the stadium, is freaking out. What I thought was an unwinnable game is looking to end with us on top. So much for Matt Barkley looking for revenge. It’s hard to believe that a class of Stanford students went through 4 years without having lost to USC.

We start playing the victory mix of “All Right Now”. Thankfully, it’s not a hard piece, and I can play it without music. It’s the end of the day, so I’m playing full volume since I don’t have to save it for anything else. We play the alma mater next, then play another set of songs.

Meanwhile, the crowd is on the field, though I don’t really notice them. I’m either trying to watch someone else’s fingerings or fumbling through my flip folder. It does look like there’s a big party going on, though, and I’m absolutely a fan. Right now, though, I can’t imagine a better way to party than playing tuba and dancing as part of a band.

It’s over. Security begins ushering people off of the field, and the band ranks up to leave the stadium. My friends wander over to meet Ben and me and plan our escape. We decide to skip ranking up and head straight for the Shak so we can move on to post-game food at our usual dive.

We’re sitting around, and most of us have burritos. I myself am not very hungry and just have the largest cup of horchata they have and to rehydrate. I had forgotten how much playing takes out of you, though I’m still very amped about the result of the game. We talk over all the details: the amazing scrambles from Nunes, the USC wide receivers, stats from the game, results of the other games, and where might end up in the rankings.

After hanging out a bit longer, I’m back home past midnight. Although I’m quite gross after a day of running around and playing, I can’t quite settle down, so I surf the web. My ears are ringing a bit, and I still have a couple of my parts stuck in my head. Getting a chance to play with the band was amazing after being away from an ensemble and the instrument for about 3 years and away from marching for almost 6 years. With the surprise win over USC, this is definitely one of the most personally fulfilling days I’ve had.

I’m glad I decided to come back to tuba for this one game and have no regrets about it. Maybe this will be a one-and-done experience. Over dinner, someone asked me whether I would do band again. “Maybe,” I said. At the moment, I’m not thinking I will, but having used just about every excuse and reason to avoid it for the 5 years I was still a student at Stanford, maybe is non-zero.

Olympics, No Spoiler

Well, if you’re more than a day behind, this actually does have a spoiler, but the first “big” news for the US Olympics team was the result of the 400 IM Finals, featuring Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. So, if you hadn’t heard, Lochte won and Phelps was out of the medals. I hadn’t, until about 4 hours before it was shown on NBC primetime.

I hear there’s a lot of controversy about this online right now, but I’m afraid to read it in fear of reading another spoiler. Fortunately, my reddit account shouldn’t have any results appear on my front page, but I need to stop instinctively checking sports news on ESPN.com when I’m bored. In case you’re not also affected by this first-world problem of mine, NBC tape delays important events (particularly involving Americans) until primetime coverage at 8PM in the evening. Since the west coast is 8 hours behind London, this means that results are coming out significantly before primetime, and unlike with movies, spoilers aren’t a faux pas in sports.

It gets worse, though, as NBC hasn’t even managed to coordinate their own coverage. The nightly news from 6 to 7 on NBC Bay Area does their job in covering the latest news, including the results that will be shown on their channel immediately after the news finishes. On one occasion, they were polite enough to warn of the spoilers ahead, but even the teaser of the stories have a way of revealing results (“In just a few moments, we’ll discuss the shocking result of [EVENT] with Bay Area local athletes”). It kind of kills the excitement, as you might imagine.

Maybe this has been a problem for years now, and I have only just reached maturity to care about it now. But let’s pretend that’s not the case. Why is this any worse than Beijing 4 years ago or Turin 6 years ago? Maybe it’s Web 2.0. These days, we get news instantly. Many people still get their news from the mainstream media, but for many of my peers, reddit, twitter, and facebook are the first sources checked for news. And since they’re so tightly integrated with our social lives, the news is unavoidable as we go about our normal lives. As I noted above, I have needed to go on a bit of a social diet to avoid the spoilers.

This probably isn’t the worst thing, though that’s the part of me that greatly desires for a sense of superiority in being a luddite. In any case, it’s just another sign, I think, of how the internet has continue to hurt TV. The most obvious effect is that we’re viewing more media on the internet, but the timing of them are causing perhaps irreconcilable problems. TV, except in truly exceptional breaking news, is on a pre-determined schedule meant to feature content at certain times. The internet is a constant flow of content pushed to us when we want it. Live sporting events and news are a good example. Another is prime-time TV: TV networks feature their popular shows in the evenings, and they’ve been losing a lot of ground to hulu and netflix, which allow users to watch content when it’s convenient for them. I don’t have any numbers on it, but I would imagine that the availability of old TV shows online has cut into the viewership of the new shows that the networks want us to watch.

NBC is being criticized for tape-delaying their content and being late to the game. The most obvious solution is to show it all live, but the average viewer (including me) isn’t going to stay up all night and forgo weekday mornings just to watch. I much prefer to watch it in the evenings. Besides, it isn’t really their way: their strength is the primetime content.

So I’ll be glued to my couch for the next 2 weeks after dinner. I got an antenna last week, which is pretty phenomenal. Assuming I don’t use my computer in specific parts of the room and don’t need the 2 end tables that it’s sitting on top of, the digital signal provides a perfectly clear HD image. I’ll be working my shower and other tasks into the commercial breaks to miss as little as possible. It’s a little inconvenient, but the primetime experience is just too good to do it any other way.

Being a Stanford Football Fan

(Author’s Note: check out one of the recaps at ESPN or Go Mighty Card if you’re interested in the details of the game this post came from. It shouldn’t be too important, so read on if you prefer)

A few minutes after Stanford beat USC 48-38 and we had a chance to recover from triple overtime, my roommate Joe commented that it had been the “most nerve-wracking game” he had even watched. I pointed out that it was only so because we won: had we lost, it would’ve been the most devastating game ever. Cue the camera panning over fans with their hands on their hand.

This year, Stanford football, only 5 years from going 1-11, came into the season as a top-1o ranked team with aspirations for and a shot at a national championship. So far, it’s gone very well. Coming into the game last night, Stanford had won their last 10 games by more than 25 points, were on a 15 game winning streak, and, through 7 games this year, were never behind at any point in a game. It may have been close a few times, but we never needed to come from behind.

Even so, I was scared in a few games when we were only winning by less than a touchdown at the half. Unlike teams of the past, we were expected to win, and that changed my attitude towards the games. Before, I could be happy just that we were playing well and winning. Now, in a season where we could go to the Rose Bowl or beyond, each game isn’t a step forward: it’s another chance to lose.

So watching us go to the half only leading by 4 point was worrying, but being down 10 points in the 3rd quarter was frightening. And when Andrew Luck, our star quarter back, threw an interception that USC ran back for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter to put us behind by a touchdown, I had a scary realization: our season could be “over” so quickly. Everything we hoped for could disappear, and I was looking at the score on the TV by which that might happen.

But the team showed the poise that matches their tunnel vision and “one game at a time” mentality that makes them far better and stronger than their fans, many like me who are aware of every scenario for how things play out. The offense put together 4 consecutive touchdown drives (3 in OT), and the defense forced a fumble that linebacker A.J. Tarpley jumped on top of. And that was the shocking end to a game that left all fans in disbelief, some better and some worse.

I sometimes wish we were back in the old days, when the only fans were true die-hards to a team that didn’t have any big expectations. But as easy as that life was, it didn’t drive the same intensity in me. It was easy because I wasn’t invested, even if I was watching. Stanford’s upset of then #2 USC in 2007 was great, but had we lost, I’m sure I wouldn’t have any particular memories of the game. NOw, I can experience all of the highs and lows of a game developing before me, tracking other teams and feeling every moment of the season.

I would never wish a game to come as close as this last one did, but it was probably good for us. The team showed their ability to endure a long and physical game against a tough opponent. But for the fans, we felt a fear that we hadn’t really in the past 10 games. Instead of thinking to the next few games after the team had a huge lead in the first quarter, we were intently watching every moment of the game. We saw every tackle, every reception, every juke through the game. For that game, we weren’t the fans of a possible future: we were the fans of the game of football itself that we claim to be.

What to do about perfection

This season has already been historic for baseball. Rarely can we say that something has never happened before, but before Roy Halladay and Dallas Braden, there have never been more than 2 perfect games in a season. I imagine that in the 9th inning, people were astounded to think it might happen again, until Jim Joyce missed a call at first base and called a runner safe to blow Armando Galarraga’s perfect game.

Everyone is talking about this. Other than the specific events, I’ve purposely avoided my usual baseball news to hopefully write something not entirely stolen from other writers. And so, let me begin to explain my strong opinions about something I don’t know very much about.

For me, there are 2 main issues that come out of this situation. First, should Commissioner Bud Selig reverse the call and grant Galarraga the perfect game? It’s within his power to make decisions for the best of the game, and many have said that he should. I believe that he is not obligated to reverse the call and probably shouldn’t. Second, what role should instant replay have in baseball? I believe that instant replay shouldn’t be a part of baseball.

Jim Joyce clearly made the wrong call. Galarraga clearly had his foot on the bag a full half-step before Jason Donald. Not only was this an incorrect call, it’s a badly incorrect call. Baseball is a game of inches, but when you can see on TV in real-time that a call was wrong, the play wasn’t that close. People aren’t calling for Bud’s intervention and a change in baseball policy because an umpire missed a call: that happens often enough that you’ll notice that baseball commentators will sometimes gloss the call when they show instant replays on TV (in comparison, I feel like basketball or football commentators will always point out when a foul is incorrectly called or missed). People are calling for Bud’s intervention because it was a dramatically significant moment, and all parties feel sorry about it, and I don’t think that’s good enough.

The most important point, though, is that reversing the call won’t make things right. In the history books, Armando Galarraga’s perfect game will always have an asterisk next to it, and that’ll diminish the significance of it. Who knows how many other significant achievements have or haven’t happened because of a call, whether balls or strikes, counting an infield hit as an error, or a play on an out. And if we’re just looking for getting things for the books, I actually think this game might be more notable if the call stands and is marked as one of the many oddities in baseball history.

It’s far too late, though. In fact, as soon as Joyce called him safe, it was too late. Watching old footage, perfect games end in the bench clearing and the whole team mobbing the pitcher, either jumping up and down or hoisting him up to the cheers of the entire stadium and radio announcers reading off the scoreboard. Galarraga will never have that moment (unless he pitches another perfect game), but it’s okay, because he as well as everyone else knows what he accomplished.

To be honest, though, I’m not really that interested in that story. I’m heartless and am not particularly interested in the human side of the story and am more interested in what happens with policy change in baseball. Here’s a case where instant replay would have helped to make the correct call. From an objective perspective, the video footage can’t lie. The argument against the use of instant replay tends to romanticize traditional aspects of the game. I am totally in favor of that. In a discussion over Facebook, a friend questioned whether it was truly right that we should be valuing human fallibility in judging. Well, when you put it that way, I guess not. But sort of yes.

The NHL, NFL, and NBA have all embraced instant replays as a part of the game. I actually think it’s ridiculous how much the NFL values instant replay when spotting the ball is very arbitrary, but I don’t often hear people complain about referees making more accurate calls. Instant replay has even become a part of baseball in ruling home run balls. Baseball is built upon a system of judgments calls. The strike zone will change over the course of the game, and that sort of interaction with the home plate umpire’s calls makes baseball interesting for me. Extending instant replays onto the field brings about a greater scrutiny that I’m not certain will benefit the game.

I know my perspective is absurdly conservative and naive, but I kind of like the game the way it is. Baseball is a slow sport, but it can’t be that slow. Compare, say, a Roy Halladay game to a Red Sox-Yankees game. In the former, the game is still slow, but Halladay works fast, and two hours later, you just watched a pitcher go after batters for 9 innings and craftily duel and retire the other side. In the latter, the game is still slow, and the rivalry is fun, but when Derek Jeter steps out of the batter’s box again, you wonder where the last 4 hours of your life went. Now, the introduction of instant replay can slow down the game even more. I know first-hand how much of a downer a play under review can be at a football game. In the middle of a usually close moment when you want to see things play out, the referees instead huddle, put on the headphones, and go into the tank while the crowd loses energy and maybe even sits down. What a drag.

I won’t stop watching if baseball does introduce instant replay more generally; it’ll still be a good game. I might, however, complain loudly unless instant replay remains solely in the judgment of the head umpire. Specifically, I don’t think it’s a right of the managers to challenge a play like in football. They can certainly discuss a call and ask why like they do now, but again, you just have to accept the calls as they come. If an umpire legitimately misses a call on the spot and wants more information, it’s not unreasonable to get help from the instant replay, but that’s the umpire’s call.

The 2 Great TV Contests of our Time (or at least the weekend)

Today was a day of watching heated contents with slim margins. Of the two, I’m vaguely familiar with one, and completely clueless but strong opinionated about the other. Let’s start with the one I’m more familiar with.

The NCAA tournaments for basketball are going on right now. Indeed, if you aren’t swept up in March Madness, you’re probably pretty normal. There’s a lot of hubbub about the tournament with many drawing up brackets and participating in big pools, but I haven’t met anyone so familiar with all of the match-ups to have put together a completely well-reasoned and researched bracket. Once past the top 30 teams or so, who really knows how Cornell or UNT did this season and what they’ll look like matched up a Kentucky? I can’t even imagine having followed all of the 64 teams up until now, which is likely why I haven’t participated enough to even get brackets put together.

That of course doesn’t keep fans from being entertained by watching the games. I didn’t know a one of the players I saw play yesterday, but by the end of each game, I was pulling for someone to win. You kind of have to have stakes in the game for watching to be any fun. In the end, you just kind of do some satisficing to figure out which team winning benefits you more and start screaming at the TV.

Perhaps one of the best parts of the tournament, though, is the underdog story. The charm of Northern Iowa beating Kansas (the #1 ranked team in the nation) was the fact that no one was paying attention. You can look at all the statistics and listen to all of the analysts, and no one is going to call that upset. But as they say, “That’s why they play the games.” At some point, all that discussion has to ground out in something happening. Besides, there’s just nothing like watching the lead change twice in the last 10 seconds to be capped off by a buzzer beater.

And on that note, I want to move on to the other great television spectacle: the House and health care. Now don’t run off in fear of this blog turning political: I’m too ignorant to offer anything substantial. I want to talk about its portrayal and why I was so entertained.

My mom, my sister, and I turned on the TV just before dinner to watch MSNBC when I got wind that the health care bill was going to the floor for debate. Frankly, I find a lot of the coverage not particularly interesting, but I came back in the middle of Nancy Pelosi’s speech to what was going on.

When they started counting votes, I was gripped. I mean, I knew nothing about the process,s the deals, the formalities, the motions, but the guy on MSNBC told me that exciting things would happen when that number got to 216, and I kept looking back at the NV column to guess how far away the House was from doing or not doing something. I certainly didn’t stand up and scream when they hit the magic number, but I could believe that someone on the planet did (likely a nerd wearing pajama pants, no less), and that’s a big deal.

I honestly didn’t wake up a happier person today because of the health care bill (though according to some, maybe I should have). For me, it was just a series of 3 15-minute contests where both sides were trying to have a higher total count on their side after months of work. And sure, the commentator can talk all he wants, but I can’t become an expert after watching for an hour or two. There’s just too much going on to understand, and I’m not nearly dedicated enough to follow all of the details and numbers for this to be a momentous occasion for me. I’m just as happy as anyone else to have watched a good show.

Dining Super Bowl Style

If my cooking blog hasn’t made it apparent, you should know that I really like food. I’m not much into truly fine-dining, and I don’t think I have any in-depth knowledge of particular cuisines or cooking techniques, but thanks to 2 sisters and a mom, I really enjoy being in the kitchen and watching The Food Network.

On truly American holidays, though, one must return to truly American cuisine. This past weekend was the Super Bowl, and I had the privilege of determining the menu to serve ~25 people. Here’s what I came up with:

  • 10 2-liters of assorted beverage
  • 6 bags of chips
  • 1 jar salsa, 1 jar queso
  • 6 Pizzas
  • 40 Pizza rolls
  • 60 Chicken wings
  • 2 bags of cookies
  • 1 Veggie Platter

When I was initially creating the list, I considered trying to find classier stuff to eat, but I quickly realized that a Super Bowl party with cauliflower quiche and sparkling apple cider simply would be as good as a bag of Doritos and a can of diet soda. When we left the grocery store with our cart-full, I realized that it was difficult to believe that anything we had bought could actually be called food. Anyways, for the most part, it went pretty well, I think, though there are some lessons in this. Let’s take an item-by-item breakdown:

Drinks

This I was particularly worried about. I found 2 answers about portions, which said about 2 2-liters per 5 people. I discovered that 1 2-liter is apparently equal to about 5.6 cans of soda, which was taken into account in buying. The breakdown went 2 bottles of coke, 2 bottles of sprite, 2 bottles of diet coke, 2 bottles of lemonade, 1 bottle of fanta, and 1 bottle of mountain dew. The coke ran out, but we had leftovers of the sprite, diet coke, and lemonade, meaning that we probably roughly had enough to drink.

Chips

6 was definitely low-balling. 2 bags of tortilla chips and 2 jars of dip was definitely the wrong ratio, but moreover, the chips went quick. The ratio I found was I think around 1 bag per 4 people. Instead, I’m going to vote that 1 bag per 3 people is the correct way to go. Besides, that gives more variety.

Pizzas

As far as dinner plans go, people only seemed interested in either a) burritos or b) pizza. Because we didn’t put in our pizza order a week before, it seemed better to not worry about delivery issues and breaking the bank, so we got frozen pizzas instead, which were extra-cheap for the Super Bowl sales. I found a few recommendations for how much to get, but ended up buying a little less since I figured that people would be full of other snacks. In retrospect, I probably should have stayed at the recommendation, being roughly 1 pizza for every 3 people.

The bigger difficulty I had, however, was that our dorm oven isn’t particularly big. It also only has 1 rack. A little overlap on the corner allowed 2 pizzas onto the 1 rack, but that’s still pretty slow. So if you’re not well-equipped, I think delivery pizza might be a better option in any case.

Pizza Rolls and Chicken Wings

I was trying to think of good, somewhat substantive junk food to eat, and that’s what I came up with. Both are very easy to pop in the oven frozen to cook, and they both went fairly quickly. The wings I got were actually of the boneless variety, but were still fine. As far as pizza rolls go, I don’t think you can get much further from real food than pizza bites. Let’s go down the ladder of foods that it evolved from:

  • Real food. Real food has a recipe.
  • Pizza. This might be an urban legend, but I believe that pizza was originally just something made at the end of the day to use up extra ingredients, which is believable.
  • American Pizza. In the land of convenience, we took the art out of it and reduced it to the key ingredients: dough, tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings (mostly meat). A friend once mentioned seeing someone use ketchup instead of tomato sauce. That doesn’t sound tasty.
  • Frozen Pizza. It’s too difficult to make real pizza, so we have them package up all the bits, and we just throw it in the oven.
  • Chicken tenders. Too difficult to prepare the chicken. Just bread it and deep fry.
  • Chicken nuggets. Mix the chicken in with something starchy and bread it, and freeze it. Comes in nice bite-size chunks that can be eaten with fingers.

And so frozen pizza + chicken nuggets = pizza rolls. So probably not real food, but it’s okay: they’re still delicious.

2 bags of cookies

I figured we should have something sweet to balance out all of the salty. These ran out fairly early as well, so I think I would double the amount of sweet to bring along.

1 Veggie Platter

This was my token attempt to ensure that not everything we were eating would shorten our lives. I think it failed, because the ranch dip it came with was pretty good as well.

So that was that. It was educational in terms of figuring out how much people eat and will certainly help with future party-planning. I think the #1 lesson, though, is that in these things, don’t lowball. Real food is expensive. Fortunately, nothing we bought was expensive. I don’t think anyone would’ve complained about an extra bag or two of chips to stash away for a later snack, so here’s the rule I’ll be running with from now on:

Determine how much food to get. Get 25% more than that.