Monday, June 25, 2012

Black & Gold around my corner

I recently started an at least half organized workout program that includes daily 45-60 minutes bike sprints. Besides that fact that my body sends me extatic thank you cards for the fresh air and the training units one positive side effect is that I learn a lot of new things about my neighborhood since the best bikes routes are not the ones I usually use walking or with the bus / train.

This weekend I cycled along my regular route and was just picking up pace, when I came to a full stop because I saw this:

Wait? What? Football in June? 5 min from my apartment? And the team colors are ... black & gold? I checked out what was going on ... and indeed ... the Munich Cowboys would have a homegame not much later.

Let's take a break to find out how it could be that I had no idea:
Well ... American Football is not popular in Germany and although I knew that there is a German Football League I never really heard something about it. Football is not making the news here - except the Super Bowl. Additionally I am a spoiled brat when it comes to (American) sports. I mean ... although the German hockey league has a lot of tradition and some good teams I just don't watch it - the hockey played here appears to be boring and slow to me. So why then check on American Football in Germany where even less is to expect?

But then I got it served on a silver tray ... right in front of my door, on a sunny summer day (The season in Germany starts in May!), the tickets super cheap ... and a Munich team sporting my favorite and oh so familiar black and gold. I decided spontaneously to go back in the afternoon and watch the game. 

And then for real ... football was played ...

Schwäbisch-Hall Unicorns vs Munich Cowboys in black & gold

The Munich Cowboys were facing the Schwäbisch-Hall Unicorns. Yeah ... really .... Unicorns. Despite the (for a football team) weird name the Unicorns are last year's champions and in the 2nd place of the German Football League South at the moment while the Cowboys struggle badly and are last in their division (see ... how fast I learn .... a few days ago I did not even know that all this exists). 

This means that a really good team was in town for a game in the highest national league. Also it was Saturday afternoon and the weather was absolutely perfect for watching a game, but the stadium still looked like that: 

Gameday at Dante Stadion

Only a little more than 1.000 visitors were attending and I could easily track lots of them down as family and friends of the players. I think that tells all about the relevance this sport has here in Germany - sad enough. Would be fun if that would change one day. 

The Game:
I overheard some talks and found out that nobody had really high expectations. The theme of the day was more "Let's not emberrass ourselves"  and most visitors seemed to be okay with the in my newbie eyes quite devasting result of 21:59 for the Unicorns

I am by far not a football expert but the problems of the Cowboys are pretty obvious.
They have with Patrick Carey (He's a Williamsport, PA nativ. That's not too far from Wilkes-Barre and if that kid is not a Steelers fan I need to have a serious talk with his parents.) a young QB that plays his first season in Munich and you can see that the team yet lacks coordination.
The defense of the Unicorns on the other hand was playing very effectively and the short pass play of the Cowboys was leading nowhere. Only when Carey felt confident enough to throw some long passes AND somebody like the really good RB Nikolai Altar had found some room to move forward the Cowboys could make a stand against the Unicorns.

Munich Cowboys 

But the way bigger problem than the not so effective offensive play was the defense. These guys were totally clueless how to stop the Unicorns who could went through their lines like a knife through butter on room temperature. The Unicorns were pretty to watch scoring touchdown after touchdown .... as long as you were not rooting for black and gold - then it was quite painful.

The offense watching the defense failing to stop the Unicorns. 

And finally the stupid penalties need to stop. FOCUS boys ... it can't be that you lose yard after yard due to plain stupidity or a lack of concentration - you really cannot afford it. 

But although all this might not sound like I had a good day I really enjoyed it. It was fun to watch a football game live so effortless around the corner from my home and it was a great way to spend a very nice summer afternoon outside. I'll definitely go again - next homegame is July 21st. If you are in Munich and like to join - let me know. 

And good or not ... did we black & gold fans EVER abondon a team just because it was losing? I'd say ... no.  Instead we wait for better days - even if it takes 19 years ;). 


PS: Next posting will be NOT about sports - I promise. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Cherish the moment

Screenshot by Patrick Muldowney, because it had the Bucs before the Reds

Sorry - a little - to everybody who expected a philosophical essay and is now starring puzzled at baseball stats. I will get to your point but you have to deal with the ballgame, too, I am afraid.

I have to admitt, when AJ Burnett put on his Pirates uniform and first thing what happened to him was getting his face smashed so badly that he needed surgery, I took a deep breath and started looking for cookie recipes. I had planned on baking "20 years of losing 1992-2012" anniversary cookies. I am not kidding. And maybe I will have to bake them anyway when the summer is over, but maybe .. maybe NOT!
I might not need to do it because lead by even this AJ Burnett the Pirates just stopped to suck. They do even more than that .. they win! The Pittsburgh Pirates (0.542) are in the 1st place of their division. They really are:

Source unknown, but whoever created this - thank you!

And now we come back to the headline of this post "cherish the moment", because in all the playoff style excitement I hear lots of comments like: 
  • "It's only June. There's still enough time to start sucking again."  
  • "I do not care where we are now. All what counts is playing above .500  by the end of the regular season." 
  • "Player XYZ sucks. I do not get all the excitement." 
I mean it is all true ... playing .542 now does not have to mean the Bucs will be above .500 at the end of the season and there is still quite some room for improvement. But seriously ... why not just enjoy the moment - NOW? Why not screenshot the MLB standings of National League Central - NOW? Why not beaming at the fireworks - NOW? 

Let's worry, when it's time to worry. Do not ruin the moment, but embrace the joy, cherish the moment, celebrate life (and not just baseball - of course).  That does not mean to switch your brain off and play stupid. We all know how fast things can fall apart and that we have to plan and prepare to make things work and figure out how to make decisions that go much further than just today. But we also need to make sure that all this is not ruining our NOW not ALTHOUGH tomorrow all could be over already but BECAUSE!

So let's laugh, let's be silly, let's have fun and raise the Jolly Roger. 

Let's go Bucs! 

Video credits go to the wonderful
Ginny Montanez - as so often. It's a bit of a Pittsburgh insider (sorry everybody else ... again), but I guess you get the message ;) 

Adding in the new Benstonium video. Makes so much sense!  I watched "Moneyball" on my way back from Pittsburgh in April ;)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My book in April and May 2012

The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach


When I was sitting in the airplane back from Budapest and took out my book "The Art of Fielding" by Chad Harbach my collegue - a Detroit native - was sitting next to me asking "What is your book about?" I replied: "Baseball."  He raised an eyebrow, took the book to flip through the 500 pages and after reading a bit here and there he nodded and gave it back to me saying: "Wow - this is REALLY about baseball." But although the sport takes a big part of the book it is of course not only about baseball - I mean ... it's still a novel and not the infamouse "Baseball for Dummies" that is occupying space on my bookshelf and leaves me puzzled every time I try to pick it up.

So what do we have here: lots of
baseball like mentioned, a gay love story, the world of college sports generally and life & love on a campus in the US Mid West especially. Hmmm ... I did not feel exactly like the target group for this book, but that never before stopped me from reading something and it won't in the future.

The book takes a slow start, but I like that. I'm not the type of reader who has any kind of problem with 500 plus pages and I really appreciate when an author takes time to
develop his characters and it is definitely one of the most significant strengths of the book.

One of the more controversial parts of the novel is for sure the
gay student / teacher love story that leads into the obvious catastrophe and beyond (but I won't tell - too much spoiler). On one hand it is as wrong as it looks like - a student/teacher relationship just can't be as long as both are at the same school. On the other hand it is different from the expected, because it's the young man who is already very aware of who he is and what he wants and the elder - only in theory more powerful - is confused, vulnerable and in search of his identity. And in the end it is one of the very universal stories about falling in love totally unexpected, because love just happens. It is nothing you can plan or predict.
If you know me for a while or read some more book reviews on this blog you know already that instead of candles and flowers I like it more subtle when it comes to romantic episodes and this storyline has one I really like although it is the beginning of the tragic turnaround. It is when the daugther of Guert Affenlight - the teacher and college president - realizes who is her father's new love and not because she caught them in the act, but finds the two standing next to each other in public - not even touching, but nevertheless being so obviously well acquainted with each other needing not much words but just a few looks and gestures. It is the moment you wish the two could have a happy end well knowing it will not happen.

The book is packed with some more stories about relationships - friendship, love between father and daughter, a failed marriage and new love that comes in a various shades (no pun intended). The campus is the stage for everything - the micro cosmos of human drama. That sounds pretty cliché and in a way it is, but Harbach manages to balance things out, slowing the pace, increasing the intensity and manages to save his novel when it is in danger to drop to the average.
He even does when he lets The Harpooners - The Westish underdog baseball team - win the championship. For a couple of pages the book appears suddenly like a overcolored Hollywood sports movie, with the classic story of the small team winning hearts and trophies in the proverbial David vs Goliath action. And just when the reader really starts to roll his eyes the predictable sports drama gets blurry and the focus shifts. Rescue in the very last minute.  

And that brings me to the topic of the ballgame
It was my former boss who recommended me the book when I was sick at home and she wanted me just to relax, read and recover. She said: "It is about baseball and I heard it is kind of based on the story of a Pittsburgh Pirates player." I of course of thought "Yay ... must be Roberto Clemente" expecting some sports magic. But .. doing some research I learned that it was not Clemente but ... Steve Blass. I pratically see the ones who are no strangers to the sport cringe their faces knowing that this is not a happy story line. And in fact most of the book is about the very talented young shortstop Henry Skrimshander, who just one step away from MLB draft loses his magic. He has to learn then painfully that he is not a machine but a human being - and that means to be set to fail but also being blessed with the potential ability to overcome this shocking discovery.
The baseball part of the book is strong, powerful and intense. It's worth  reading.

Baseball & me
This is a complicated love story just like the ones in Chad Harbach's book.
One part of me is just too European to get it although I really try hard ("Baseball for Dummies"!). But I can read as much as I want, I still do not even understand the numbers running on the bottom corner of the screen *SIGH*. Don't get me wrong - I understand ... something. I know when a team scores. I know basics of offense and defense play, but I am scratching the surface, the very surface and no more. It is just so not like HOCKEY where all my senses are on alarm, where I know my lines and can see the puck mostly because my brain can guess a little ahead where it goes. I just love hockeyBaseball on the other hand still feels like it's played on another planet.

But just lately I see some light at the end of the tunnel. Watching a game live makes a major difference. The atmosphere is important for the emotional connection and the beauty of the game just enrolls in front of you.
"The Art of Fielding" became also part of the puzzle because it tells a lot about the enormous effort, the strive for perfection and the billions of possible variations which lie in the seemingly clearly defined tasks of throwing / catching / batting a ball and so does this this amazing picture by Pittsburgh photographer Duane Rieder, that explains more about baseball than the damn "Baseball for Dummies" will ever be able to do.

I also may be still a bazillion miles away from seeing by the way the pitcher is flexing his sholders and holding the ball what the ball will do when leaving the pitcher's hand. It may even take me two more years to figure out the bloody statistics, but there is something I can do already really well for quite some time: bleeding back & gold. And that's at least half of the game for us (at least mentally) in Pittsburgh, isn't it? 

Raise the Jolly Roger!  Let's go Bucs!

PS: The moment I am posting this the Pirates are fighting with the St. Louis Cardinals over #2 spot in their conference and play at 0.509. That does not even look that bad ... for the Pirates, but I won't jinx anything at this point like talking about being above .500 by the end of the season ... so just shhhhhh  and enjoy.