Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A View from the Upper Deck at Byrd

For those who haven't seen it yet, here's a view of the new club level at Byrd Stadium. Looks very good and big-time. The team... not so much.

Anyone ever sit way up high at Byrd? I brought my 5-year-old son to this game. Upon arriving at our seats and looking at over the horizon he said, "I think I can see the ocean."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What Mediocrity Hath Wrought

I'll never forget the day I went to pick out my season tickets at the brand new Comcast Center. It was the summer following the national championship season - perhaps the best timing for the opening of a new building in the history of such occurrences.

No one could possibly draw up a better game plan.

"Hey, we're building a new, state-of-the-art, on-campus, pro-style basketball facility that will seat 17,950. We need to sell some tickets. Anyone on the marketing team got an idea?"

"Well, how about if we win the national championship the season before we open the building?"

"GREAT idea!"

And that's actually what happened. We all know the 2001-2002 Terps brought home the title in April and the 2002-2003 Terps opened the Comcast Center in November.

So everyone was all geared up to get a great seat in the new building. You had to ante up some cash first, though. People and businesses were paying $25,000, $50,000, even $100,000 to become "building campaign partners" or some such nonsense and get the sweetest tickets in the house. This is true.

I had season tickets for several years prior to the national championship. Two in section A, row 6. They were great seats behind the basket at Cole. Me and my pal Herbst got them from a friend I used to work with who let me take over the tickets when she moved out of town. It was a sweet deal. To keep them, we only had to make a minimum contribution to the Terp club each year - at least $125 and then, of course, buy the tickets.

Our first season with the tickets was Steve Francis first and only year in College Park. Good times. Then came the Terence Morris/Juan Dixon/Lonny Baxter/Steve Blake/Chris Wilcox/Byron Mouton era ... good times my friends, some of the best live crowds I've ever had the joy of joining.

Then Maryland won the national championship. Shortly thereafter came the letters and calls explaining that in order to get seats in the new building, you had to pony up enough of a donation to get yourself ranked among the top Terp Club point holders who would get access to season tickets.

So Herbst and I recruited two more friends, and each of us kicked in $500 for a total donation of $2,000. Then came the fateful day when I got to walk into a trailer adjacent to the almost completed Comcast Center to pick out seats from a giant board that indicated what was left.

My heart sank. Basically I had a choice between the last row in the section next to the corner or about five rows from the top in the corner. I chose the seats in the corner but not quite at the top. Something about a seat in the very last row depressed me more than a seat in the worst section in the house.

I had good seats at Cole. I had an eye level view of the rafters at Comcast.

After holding onto the tickets for a couple seasons, I let them go a couple years ago. Who needed it? I watch on TV. I go to the games when someone offers a ticket. I find it ridiculous to pony up Terp club dues year after years for the right to buy tickets. It's the PSL that never goes away.

Fast forward 7 years. Leading into this season, there is no line of people clamoring to give six figures to Maryland for the privilege of watching the men's basketball team.

My old seats in section 224 are available if you want them. You'll find ads in the Post sports section offering season tickets for anyone willing to part with a relatively modest $599.

They'll even let you make $99/month payments for six months. That was definitely not the case after the national championship. You had to pay up and you had to pay up right then and there.

You could say that this is the byproduct of a weak economy. But it is also the byproduct of a weakened program. Since the national championship, Maryland has had a winning record in ACC play only twice. They haven't been mainstays in the top 25 and haven't produced the kind of teams and players that make you stop what you're doing and pay attention. In short, every since Juan Dixon and company left campus, there has been almost no buzz around Maryland basketball. A little reported or perhaps known fact is that the fat cat donors who ponied up in the tens of thousands for access to seats after the national championship, rarely go to the games. Sure, they'll show up for Duke and UNC, maybe even Georgia Tech and Clemson. But South Carolina State on a Wednesday in December? Forget it. The place has been a morgue for most of the out of conference games for the past five years.

And that's a shame. Because Maryland basketball, at its best, is a lot of fun. Gary is an entertaining coach to watch. His teams play an up-tempo, entertaining style. The team supposedly has some very talented freshmen big men coming into the program who will give the Terps some overdue muscle and skill inside.

But talk is cheap and tickets are available. Operators are standing by.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Random Gripe about the Orioles Post-Game Show

The Orioles are 60-92 and need to win 3 of their remaining 10 games to avoid losing 100 games for the first time since 1988. That year, of course, was the year the Birds lost their first 21, not a great start.

This year, the Orioles were only 8 games under .500 at the break, playing reasonably competitive baseball. But the second half has been an outright disaster from a W-L perspective. The bright spots have been the emergence of young pitchers Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman, and superstar in waiting Matt Wieters. Wieters is hitting like .500 since being moved to the 3-spot in the order.

Anyway, this isn't a post to complain about the Orioles and think about what's coming next year and lament the march toward 99 losses. No, I'm just gonna bitch for a few graphs about what the team and its radio flagship have the nerve to call Orioles All-Access.

See, back when the Orioles were relevant and interesting and people cared, one of the things I enjoyed doing was listening to the post-game show on the radio. There, your could get a sense for the pulse of the fans, what they were thinking about, wondering about, and concerned about. Now I guess that discussion has moved to the message boards and the various Blogs, like Peter Schmuck's excellent and entertaining The Schmuck Stops Here.

But what we don't have is an actual dialogue from the fans after a game that captures the emotion of having just watched or listened to the game.

The format of the Orioles post-game show is that Tom Davis and Dave Johnson, who are both very good, get literally 2-3 minutes per segment to talk about something and then there's 3 minutes of commercials. Repeat, repeat. So as soon as Johnson gets into talking about something - literally after 2 minutes every single segment - the "commercial is coming soon, gotta wrap it up" music comes on. Then Tom Davis comes in and says something like, "more on Orioles All Access after the break. And then the break takes longer than the actual segment. They take no calls, I don't think they bring in any guests. They talk to each other for 2-3 minutes at a time, broken up by 3 minutes of ads. I am not exaggerating at all, this is the format of the show.

I usually listen for a segment or two if I'm in the car, then just change the station because it's so annoying and pointless. Dave Johnson is actually interesting and has something to say. Tom Davis is a very talented host and knows a ton about baseball. But the format is a complete joke.

All Access to what?

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Worldwide Leader in Overdoing It

I like sports a lot. There’s nothing more entertaining to me than the drama of a great game. So I watch a lot of ESPN because I like football and baseball and basketball and golf and can even get into the occasional women’s softball game or soccer match. Hockey not so much, but that's just me.

All that said, as much as I watch ESPN, I kinda hate ESPN. I hate how often they celebrate themselves and remind us how cool they are. I hate how exhaustively and painfully they over-cover certain events and athletes. Brett Favre comes to mind. ESPN thinks sports fans are just sitting around wondering what he is thinking about, constantly. I don't dislike Favre, I just don't care.

As much as I do appreciate ESPN's coverage and like a lot of their personalities and commercials, I just don't like how ESPN overdoes it on a regular basis, to the point of becoming insufferable.

According to ESPN for example, this Saturday's USC at Ohio State game was a HUGE deal, even if the calendar says September and the game itself was kinda boring, save for the final 10 minutes.

ESPN aired the game, which started at 8 and ended at around 11:35, which sounds about right for an overly hyped early season game stocked with as many commercials and sponsorships as possible. But the length of the game is not my problem with ESPN.

My problem is how they treated the viewer after the game. Like I said, the game ended just past 11:30 and after a long game like that, my thought is that it’s time to switch to highlights of the day from other games and events, of which there were a magnitude.

So after the obligatory post-game interviews, where the freshman quarterback thanks God for the win, and the coach thanks God for the quarterback, and we see the teams praying and singing the school fight song, we shift to ESPN headquarters in Bristol where Steve Levy and John Anderson are standing by. Great, I'm thinking, it's time for them to take us through an exciting day of college football right? Maybe we’ll head out to the US Open semifinals where Serena blew a gasket? The baseball playoff races? Tiger went low Saturday, maybe we’ll see him in action?

No, no, no, and no. ESPN will now reinforce that the SportsNation was supposed to be utterly fascinated by the significance of Ohio State – USC. Before the worldwide leader shows us a clip of anything else, we will all re-live the game (that we just watched) in pictures, words, analysis, interviews and press conferences for the next, I kid you not, 20 minutes. You want highlights? You will get nothing other than Ohio State – USC. Yes, I realize I could flip over to ESPNEWS, but as they've told us, "This is SportsCenter." And I want me some SportsCenter.

Here’s what ESPN aired:

11:37-11:41 – The guys from SportsCenter deliver the OSU-USC highlights package, with “big game” treatment in the form of exhaustive recaps of every significant play. Remember, they are showing you the highlights of a game you probably just watched.

Now we can get to other games right? I mean, I think Tiger might have had a hole in one on a par 5, let’s see some of that right? Not yet.

11:41 – 11:44 - Back to Columbus for Chris Fowler and Desmond Howard breaking down the game you just saw and just saw the highlights from. Desmond Howard chimes in with really interesting stuff like, “Pete Carroll is one of the best in college football at making halftime adjustments.”

I am personally ready to see Michigan – Notre Dame highlights, but I would take sumo wrestling as this point, I don't care.

11:44 – 11;46 - They kick it up to the booth where Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit are ready to provide some final thoughts on the game they just analyzed for nearly four hours. How much more can they possibly have to say about this game? Can we all move on? This is getting awkward.

Apparently not.

11:46-11:48 -- Back to Chris and Desmond on their on-field set to talk more about the game we just watched, then watched highlights of, then watched them talk about, then listened to Kirk and Brent talk about, and now it’s back to Chris and Desmond for more.

It's as if ESPN is saying to us, "Look, we spent a lot of money to ship a lot of people to Columbus for this one, so we are going to make you watch them. A lot."

Does ESPN think we were all heretofore incapable of understanding the magnitude of this game? Fowler just said, “A long way to go for USC but what a big step they took tonight.”

It’s September 12th Chris, ya think?

And Desmond following up with, “That wasn’t just a big step, that was a huge step.”

11:48 Fowler and Desmond are winding down and I think we’re all ready to check highlights from other games when Fowler says, “Let’s hear the post-game press conference, LIVE now, where USC freshman QB Matt Barkley is answering questions.”

11:48 – 11:53 - Really ESPN? Really we need to watch the press conference now? Before we get to see Serena cussing out the line judge? You’d think they’d cut to the press conference to hear just one or two sound bites right? Wrong. They kept the cameras there for five minutes. It was three USC guys up there saying things like, “it was 11 guys on every play.” Riveting.

After they finally break from the press conference, we gotta go straight back to SportsCenter right? I mean by this point Serena has ripped off the line judge’s head and shoved a racket down her open neck, right? And we have already, to recap:

Watched the Ohio State – USC game for 3 hours and 45 minutes, then watched the highlights of the game, then watched Chris and Desmond talk about it, then watched Kirk and Brent talk about it, then came back to Chris and Desmond for more, then went to the press conference to hear from the players for five minutes of nothing, and now?

Desmond Howard is reading Ohio State’s upcoming schedule.

The game ended nearly 20 minutes ago. Why is ESPN torturing the Sports Nation?
Honestly, if I grew up in Columbus and had three degrees from USC I wouldn't be interested in this much post game analysis.

11:58 - Finally, at a few minutes before midnight, Chris Fowler stops water boarding ESPN viewers and says, “Let’s go from Columbus back to Bristol now for John and Steve, guys?”

And Steve Levy says, “Alright Chris, I’m sure much more coming up from Columbus in just a little bit.”

In case you were wondering, next week Ohio State plays Toledo.