Friday, March 20, 2015

My Inner Ripken

  On September 20, 1998 Cal Ripken didn’t play in the Baltimore Orioles home game against the New York Yankees. Normally a player sitting out a game wouldn’t cause a ripple but this was the first game in the Orioles' last 2,633 games that Ripken hadn’t played in. It was the longest consecutive games streak in baseball history. The funny thing was that most of the fans and even many of the Yankee players didn’t know the streak was going to end until the game was underway although it because the top story on the ESPN news crawl once it was realized that the streak was ending. I never thought too much of the Orioles – they seemed too perfect with the ‘Oriole Way’ and manager Earl Weaver’s tantrums and boasting about how his style of waiting for three run homers was the only winning strategy and star pitcher Jim Palmer and his jockey shorts commercials but I loved watching Brooks and Frank Robinson and thought Paul Blair was the greatest defensive center fielder I ever saw. I never feared Ripken when the Yankees played the Orioles and certainly wouldn’t take him over Derek Jeter despite his 2 MVP awards which included the 1991 award as a member of the 67-95 Orioles over Cecil Fielder and his 44 home runs for the second place 84-78 Tigers. I’m not bashing Ripken’s award but in 1990 Fielder became the first person in 13 years to hit 50 homers for the 79-83 third place Tigers yet finished second in the MVP voting to Rickey Henderson because Henderson played on a winning team. I’m not saying Ripken didn’t deserve the MVP award – I’m saying he didn’t deserve it as much as Fielder given the standards of the time.

  To much less fanfare than the end of Cal Ripken’s streak I didn’t have a youth chess tournament in the Des Moines area in February so my streak of 49 straight months with a tournament is over. Attendance at my tournaments has been very uneven this school year. I had the most participants I ever had for a September tournament, the least ever for an October tournament, then the most ever for November and December tournaments.

  I thought I had an upswing going but then I had the lowest January number ever and as icing on the cake I only had two players in the rated (or advanced) section in the afternoon. And the little icing flower on the icing on the cake was that one of the players that was playing in the rated section was Seth from Marshalltown who came with me to help me set up and play for free. I had Seth play the other player in a match but the parents who drove their child down to the tournament were disappointed and I don't blame them since I was not able to deliver the tournament that I advertised.

  My work trip to California in February was a small factor but not a major one in skipping the month. I figured that since my January tournament was late in the month and poorly attended there was no point in rushing a tournament in three or four weeks just to say that I have a tournament every month. I spend about six hours in a month preparing for each tournament and another 13 hours on the tournament day and while I’m sure I put those 20 hours to good use I can’t point to anything that I did with the extra time. In fact, I didn’t notice any measurable extra free time in February.

  I didn’t announce that I wasn’t having a February tournament. I wondered if anyone would notice and I got two emails late in the month asking when my next tournament was. When I set up the March tournament I wanted to avoid parents bringing their children for a rated tournament that I might or might not be able to provide. I made the tournament unrated only with the mention that if enough players wanted a rated tournament I’d offer one. I did have five players for a rated tournament in the morning but in the afternoon I had one player who wanted to play in a rated tournament so I had him play Chandler (who I brought from Marshalltown to help me set up) a two game match. It was again a bummer not to have many players for a rated tournament but at least this month I didn’t advertise something I couldn’t deliver.

  Even without many rated players the attendance in March was just three off the best March attendance I’ve ever had. I don’t understand the exodus of rated players but I don’t have to understand it. I’m getting more unrated players than ever before at the tournaments which means to me that the are still performing a useful function for a large group of players. I have some sadness at the ending of my streak but at the same time it is liberating in a way I couldn’t have predicted. I’m heading to Okoboji to direct the super Okoboji Open tournament for my friends Jodene Kruse and Sam Smith next month and don’t have to set up an April youth tournament just for the sake of a streak or to uphold a tradition. It might be the same feeling Sarah Connor had at the end of the iconic film ‘Terminator 2’ when she said “The unknown future rolls toward us.”

  One streak I hope will never end is my current streak of basketball predictions. After a stellar 4-0 mark last week I have gone 7-1 over the last two weeks and find myself rounding into playoff form with 20 mythical dollars on the plus side. As usual I'll be making my picks using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only. Tonight's games feature three quality matchups (Hawks vs. Thunder, Grizzlies vs. Mavericks, and Raptors vs. Bulls) but I am going to plumb the depths of the NBA and pick four playoff teams to cover against non-playoff opponents and also pick against the league-worst Knicks who make any team look like a playoff contender.

New York Knicks at Philadelphia 76ers
The league-worst Knicks were on cloud 9 after beating the defending champion Spurs on Tuesday but after a disheartening loss to the league second-worst Timberwolves last night won't be able to cope with the athletic and rested 76ers team on a short road trip to Philly. I'll lay the 6 and a half points and put $100 on the 76ers.

Denver Nuggets at Miami Heat
The Nuggets are travelling from a game in Houston last night to the east coast for a game in Miami against the rested Heat. I look for the Heat to build on their big win against Portland Wednesday and cement their precarious playoff position and will give the 7 points on a $100 bet.

Milwaukee Bucks at Brooklyn Nets
I don't like picking road teams but will make an exception for the Bucks as they will be desperate to break their four game losing streak against the disintegrating Nets. It doesn't hurt that Bucks coach Jason Kidd really likes sticking it to the Nets team he coached last year until he lost a power struggle with GM Billy King. I'll give the Nets 2 and a half points and take the Bucks on a $100 wager.

Washington Wizards at Los Angeles Clippers
Despite the Wizards road win over the red hot Utah Jazz on Wednesday I don't think they'll be able to match up with the Clippers now that Blake Griffin has returned from his staph infection to provide some front court help for DeAndre Jordan and will lay the 6 and a half points on a $100 bet.

Boston Celtics at San Antonio Spurs
After their embarrassing loss at the hands of the league worst Knick on Tuesday the defending champion Spurs beat the Milwaukee Bucks by 11 on the road on Wednesday and return home to meet the resurgent Celtics. I think the Spurs will put be buoyed by their fanatical home crowd and win this game in a blowout so I'll lay the 9 points to win $100.