Category Archives: Sports

The Ballpark Of My Childhood Had A Roof Made Out Of Teflon, Or: Why I’ll Miss The Metrodome

The original Metrodome Roof. You know, pre-collapse. (Kyle Stokes)

The original Metrodome Roof. You know, pre-collapse. (Kyle Stokes)

It was April 14, 2001. I was finishing up sixth grade. And against the grey of the Metrodome’s Teflon roof, Carlos Lee had lost a pop-fly.

Only God knows how I’d have found my love of baseball if he hadn’t.

At the crack of the bat, I watched as Lee (or was it his White Sox teammate in center field, Chris Singleton?) looked up, slid to his left, scanned the Teflon sky for the hovering ball, then panicked. He raised his arms helplessly as if to say, Where is it? Where is it? A second later, 30 feet in front of Lee, the ball bounced hard on the AstroTurf in left field. Base hit.

I was one of more than 26,480 people in the Metrodome that Saturday night. My family’s seats down the third baseline were awful. But after a decade of fecklessness, the Minnesota Twins had won seven of their first nine in 2001. So 26,000 turned up on a Saturday night, as excited about the team’s early tear as they were skeptical. Can this little team be for real?

My dad, my youngest brother and I standing in the upper deck of the Metrodome after the Minnesota Twins played their last regularly-scheduled regular season game there on October 4, 2009.

My dad, my youngest brother and I standing in the upper deck of the Metrodome after the Minnesota Twins played their last regularly-scheduled regular season game there on October 4, 2009.

The Twins won 9-4 that night. Cristian Guzman and Doug Mientkiewicz homered. Luis Rivas tripled, then scored on a Corey Koskie groundout. A.J. Pierzynski doubled. David Ortiz singled and scored.

But the most gleeful cheers rose from the blue plastic seats that night when Carlos Lee lost the ball in the Metrodome roof.

I’m telling you — we went nuts when our building cost their left fielder an easy put-out.

So this is what it means to play baseball in Minnesota. I was 12, and I was hooked. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , ,

Why We Can’t & Shouldn’t Pay College Athletes

The idea of paying college athletes over-the-table is almost as old as the idea of paying them under-the-table. The New York Times floated the idea in ’87, with the SMU “Pony Excess” scandal still fresh.

It’s a well-intentioned idea. But it’s an idea that has never translated well to paper.

Until Johnny Manziel came along, apparently. The financial and economic facts of college sports were no different before or after the scandal surrounding the Heisman-winning sophomore QB lended, somehow, new salience — and new momentum — to a movement to “reform” (and that is the word now, “reform”) the NCAA and its “archaic” rules. Inexplicably, Manziel’s cleats stamping across TIME‘s cover next to the headline “It’s Time To Pay College Athletes” has given new spark to the notion that we can build a plausible, equitable system for compensating college stars.

Manziel TIMEThe problem is that it has never been plausible precisely because putting student-athletes on salary or stipend creates more equity issues than it solves. You can’t pay athletes in a way that’s fair to both revenue sports (read: football and men’s basketball) and non-revenue sports. You can’t escape the inevitability that female athletes would, either individually or in the aggregate, bring in smaller paychecks than male athletes. “When you try to work out a plan like this, the concept quickly falls to pieces,” Jonathan Chait writes in New York Magazine.

But put the hard numbers aside for a second. Let’s talk principle. The bargain for all college students has always been simple: Put off, for four years, your ability to earn a living. Your college experience expands your earnings potential over those four years. Take the short-term financial hit, but your diploma, physical proof of your endorsement by a venerable, trusted brand in education, will pay off over the long term. And I know, you already know this stuff — this is well-covered turf, this is ECON 101.

What we’d pay Johnny Manziel — money that couldn’t even be called beer money next to the salary he stands to make in the NFL — is what we used to call “opportunity cost.”

Yes, if we paid the athletes, they wouldn’t be the only students to earn money from their college during college. Paying the starting small forward on the basketball team, you might argue, wouldn’t be any different than the RA in your residence hall on work study. But while The Times weeps for the small forward, the RA probably needs the leg up.

The average law firm pays rookie attorneys $100,000 a year — that’s their opportunity cost. And a hell of an opportunity cost it is for a young lawyer, who likely paid about that much to earn their law degree in the first place. The NFL minimum for a rookie linebacker is $375,000; the NBA’s rookie minimum, more than $473,000. Even college athletes who don’t go pro start their post-college lives with a degree and roughly $27,000 less in college loan debt than the average student — which is to say $0 in debt — thanks to full-ride scholarships from their colleges. That’s slowly becoming a bigger and bigger deal as the cost of earning a degree increases for the rest of us.

Sure, many student-athletes arrive on campus with legitimate, tragic financial needs. “Impoverished football players cannot afford movie tickets or bus fare home,” writes Taylor Branch in The Atlantic. You might set aside Chait’s point that many students arrive on campus with legitimate, tragic financial needs. Unencumbered by an athlete’s practice and game schedule, you’d be right to think a poor non-athlete is probably in a better position to get a side job while earning his degree. But that doesn’t mean the athletic department’s analogous solution for a poor student-athlete — or for any athlete — is to advise them, “Go get yourself an endorsement deal.”

Yes, the system has its quirks. Manziel’s bizarre half-game suspension puts those idiosyncrasies on display. And there are common-sense rule changes the NCAA could make: Create an academic red-shirt. Prevent coaches from jettisoning a player for any reason before they earn their degree, even if it takes five years. Ensure, as Ramogi Huma suggests, that college players’ scholarships truly cover the full cost of attendance. (They often fall a few thousand bucks short.)

But the answer is not to ignore a truth that seems inconvenient for proponents of paying college athletes: we already do pay them, on average, five-figures a year in tuition and fees — about as much as Johnny Manziel apparently didn’t make signing footballs.

===

UPDATED, Sept. 10: Now Pinkel’s in on this too? For crying out loud.

“I’ve changed my view on this over the past few years just because of the amount of money now that’s in college football,” the Mizzou head football coach said in a post on his website. (Why does he need a website?)

Tagged , , , , ,

Schadenfreude

A-Rod a-ssault.

Ryan Dempster threw the pitch we all wanted to see Sunday night: the one that plunked the disgraced cheater in the ribcage. I think we all wanted Alex Rodriguez bruised because we’re sick of this story — not just the story of A-Rod or Biogenesis’, but the slowly-unfolding train-wreck of a story that is the Post-Steroid Era.

Maybe A-Rod’s fall from grace — emblemized by a 3-0 fastball in the ribs — is about catharsis. But if this is a cathartic moment for baseball, why does it feel so much like schadenfreude? It feels more like a violent detox as all the crap left behind by PEDs flushes out MLB’s veins after a decade-and-a-half. All baseball has to show for coming clean is national television audiences that barely trump hockey (hockey!) and a legion of listless fans desperate for good storylines.

You want to know why baseball ratings are in the dumps? Because nobody knows what they’re rooting for anymore. All they know is which guy they want hit by the first fastball they see.

Vikings Stadium: Make It Functional, But Don’t Make It Ugly

An early rendering of the proposed Vikings stadium from the same firm that designed, among other stadiums, the Indianapolis Colts' stadium.

An early rendering of the proposed Vikings stadium from the same firm that designed, among other stadiums, the Indianapolis Colts’ stadium. (Via MPR)

There are few cities in the U.S. where pro sports stadium politics has been more dysfunctional than in the Twin Cities. (See: the mess that built the Target Center; Norm Green, the Met Center and the loss of the Minnesota North Stars; Don Beaver’s temptation of the Twins at a time when it seemed like that team would never escape the Metrodome.)

And just when you thought the ink on the deal to bring a brand-new, hard-won $900 million Vikings stadium deal was dry — oh, no:

With the architect’s first schematic design only weeks away, Vikings officials and members of the public authority supervising the project are at odds over how to squeeze a baseball field into a stadium designed primarily for football.

The impasse not only threatens to delay a nearly-billion-dollar project already facing tight deadlines, but also appears to be an early test of just how accommodating the Vikings will prove in the development of a multipurpose “people’s stadium.”

“The problem is you can’t put a diamond in a rectangle,” said University of Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson. His team hopes to take advantage of playing in the new downtown Minneapolis facility that will replace the Metrodome, which for decades has served as a warm and dry venue for hundreds of college and high school teams seeking an early start to the baseball season and refuge from nature’s worst. “Something’s got to give,” Anderson said. Continue reading

Manti Te’o, The Sports Media Complex & How Even Deadspin Screwed This One Up

So… Deadspin. Manti Te’o. His dead girlfriend doesn’t exist, huh?:

The photographs identified as [Te’o’s supposed girlfriend Lennay] Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.

Te’o’s a “victim,” Notre Dame’s athletic director Jack Swarbrick swears — despite Deadspin speculation to the contrary — telling the story of ‘posthumous’ phone calls, subsequent independent investigations and a Heisman finalist’s deep, deep embarrassment. Maybe the story’s true, even with all of the things that don’t add up — like, I don’t know, motive… Te’o’s account of his first face-to-face meeting with Kekua… the Arizona Cardinal who says he met Kekua

But who cares. The real headline from tonight is that Deadspin — by cobbling together some random tweets and all of four-ish (?) quoted-but-anonymous sources — just made a bunch of respected journalism outlets, from The New York Times, to Sports Illustrated, ESPN and CBS News (to say nothing of The South Bend Tribune) look capitally stupid.

Let’s spare Te’o the tough questions and ask these outlets why they screwed up so royally. And Deadspin isn’t exempt just because they broke the story.
Continue reading

Tagged , ,

Entire East Coast Loses Its ‘Country Breakfast’ Over All-Star Game Boos

Robinson Canó said he’d pick a Kansas City Royal for the Home Run Derby. He didn’t. Kansas City Royals fans repaid him in Bronx cheers.

But somehow it’s the Royals fans who become the ungracious hosts? Despite what the East Coast media’s saying, I think @Clintonde is dead-on:

Continue reading

The Seven Stages Of Mizzou Grief

(Photo from the AP/Boston Globe)

1.) Denial. Mostly comes in the form of denying the continued legitimacy of the tournament in which you just lost. Example: I’m not watching March Madness anymore.

2.) Sadism. God, I hope the Jayhawks choke. Like that’ll really help. I always hope they lose.

3.) Petty, Unnecessarily-Dramatic Depression. Better when somewhat-officially sanctioned (see below). Whoever runs this page is raging it off at Harpo’s tonight:

(Screenshot/Facebook)

4.) ‘At least we have the best J-school.’ This just makes me mad. Set aside the fact that nobody cares — it’s really petty and unattractive. I graduated from a great journalism school, one whose programs I’d put against any in the country. But “The World’s Best School of Journalism” is not a statement of fact, and outside of being a galvanizing rah-rah slogan, it has little use outside of Columbia, Mo. Every time these words are uttered too freely — or even worse, with vitriol (saw the Tweets, won’t name names) — it hurts the chances of a qualified Mizzou student or recent grad looking for jobs.

5.) Begrudging Acceptance. Norfolk State, objectively, statistically, played out of their heads. But alas, Missouri and misery rhyme for a reason.

6.) Watch this and this and this over and over and over again.

7.) Repeat? I’m a Tiger today, man. And I’m a Tiger tomorrow. This is shit, and it hurts. But hats off to NSU. And I truly believe this Mizzou team has chemistry unparalleled in recent memory.

We’re bound for a bigger stage now in the SEC. I have no delusions that the SEC move will be easy. I hope it will eventually bring prosperity and athletic success on a level we couldn’t imagine in the Big 12. In fact, I have faith that it will. But the pain of losses get amplified there.

And self-pity doesn’t help there either.

(P.S. I’m also under no delusion that these feelings are exclusive to Mizzou. But I also think if this SEC’s move is gonna work, Mizzou’s in a special place to examine the state of its fandom. Fandom and finances aren’t as unrelated as we’d like to think. And if the finances of the SEC move don’t work, then the SEC move isn’t worth it at all.)

Tagged

The ‘Pettiness’ Of kansas, The Future of Mizzou

MIZ...

Judged dispassionately, there’s no way they can be called anything but petty, bitter and childish. They seem, to us, blind to the rivalries that persist despite conference affiliation — in Georgia, in Florida, in South Carolina, in Iowa. We’re sad to see it end.

But we can’t lose sight what this is all about — what it’s always been about: Money.

We sold ourselves to the SEC on the promise of delivering two metro areas — Kansas City and St. Louis — and their television sets to America’s preeminent football conference.

Yet KC has always leaned in favor of the beaked, buckled bluebird. Their campus is closer to KC than ours. They have a university hospital in KC. We have half as many living alumni in KC as we have in St. Louis.

The “bitterness” and the “childishness” is about winning an economic turf battle in Kansas City.

Does that make canceling the MU-kU rivalry game worth it? No. It’s still petty.

But I can get my head around that. It’s the most comprehensible thing they’ve done in 119 years. If only they’d buy some new shoes…

Coming Home for the First Time

It’s like Christmas Eve for Twins fans — a Christmas Eve where you get to open presents early.  Today, the Twins beat the White Sox in come-from-behind fashion again to ensure two series victories to start the year.  AndMonday’s the figurative Yuletide Morn, when fans get to watch the first game ever (that counts) in the new Target Field.

That doesn’t mean Minneapolis is without its Grinches.

Granted: from a public policy perspective, it’s really easy to poke holes in Minnesota’s new taxpayer-funded ballpark.  It’s a $522 million LEED-certified, bona-fide gem of a stadium… paid for by $392 million in county tax money levied on Hennepin County voters — without a vote.  The skyline view of downtown Minneapolis is picturesque, but the financing isn’t as pretty. In fact, it’s kinda shady, and it kinda sucks.

Continue reading

Make Me Right, Twins

I have always said that the Minnesota Twins were theoretically one major expenditure away from the World Series.  This offseason, the Twins have made three.

Just like Orlando Hudson (now officially in Twin-stripes for next year), I’m about to hop a plane for Twins Territory — where I think it’s safe to say the Twins front office is spending on new players and investing in its team in a way fans haven’t seen since the early ’90s. Twins beat writer La Velle E. Neal III says this is the best Twins team on paper in his 13 years of covering the team. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , ,