Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Angels in the Outfield

Something very touching happened very late last night. While most of America had already crawled into bed, the Los Angeles Angels clinched the pennant. After six grueling months of a seemingly eternal-long regular season -- a length of time that just grinds players down & almost empties their souls -- those Angels laid claim to the best record in the AL West Division & the ticket to the playoffs that comes with it. It is an accomplishment that can only be celebrated one way: by pouring copious amounts of alcohol all over one another. It is a special time where hours & hours and days & days and months & months of hard work is satisfied in a moment of wild, unharnessed exuberance.

For the Angels, this season was especially soul-draining & trying, though. Because very early in the season -- in the very first week of the season in fact -- they lost one of their own. Nick Adenhart, a young promising pitcher, lost his life after his vehicle collided with another vehicle that was being steered by a drunk driver.

It was tragic.

The Angels were left to pick up the pieces. As is true whenever you experience loss in life, life goes on. It was really almost unfair for each of those team-mates of Nick Adenhart's. They still had a season to play. Grieving, they had to go out night after night & perform under the big lights. And that they did. Without wallowing in self-pity or making excuses for lethargy, they went out and did their job. And they won the pennant.

Respect THAT!

(I've gotta say, as a fan of the team that will have to face the Angels in the first round of the playoffs, I'm not excited about playing them. They're a stronger team because of what they faced. Stronger than other Angels teams that the Red Sox have whipped in playoffs past.)

And yet, despite going through arduous routine & having been focused on doing their job everyday, the Angels still remember their fallen brother. Along with releasing all the pent-up joy & happiness from their fantastic accomplishment, the Angels released some other emotions, too. They let the world know that it still hurts. They told their fans that, even in this fit of machismo & chest-bumping, it's okay to cry. The Angels just missed their friend. And so they paid tribute to him in one of the neatest ways sports has ever seen. Here are some of the images:

And then, after the traditional clubhouse celebration, the Angels took it back out to the field -- to the outfield -- where the Nick Adenhart tribute banner sat on the outfield wall all season just staring back at them. And they honored him there, too:

And here are video clips of the tributes:

From ESPN: the so-called "Highlight of the Night"

From MLB.com: The Angels in the outfield

That had to be so wonderful for those Angels players. As an outside observer, there's a strong sense in which it looked like they felt that they shared one last moment with their buddy, Nick. Not that it's all about me here, but I know the feeling in my own life of accomplishing something and thinking how great it would be if I could call Mom & share that moment with her. Sometimes it's crushing when I realize I can't.

So that's why it was so touching to see those players have that moment:

• to empty the cans of beer on that empty jersey as if they were actually piling on their team-mate in real life...
• to run out to right-centerfield to be with Nick as if he were actually there...
• to lift a can in honor to him as if he were there actually appreciating the tribute...
• to take a team photo as if having Nick's image in the back-drop finally actually made things feel complete again.

What a rich moment that must have been. And what a loving act for those Angels to make to their fallen brother, and to his family. And, really, to every family everywhere that's ever lost a member. I'm not gonna forget these Angels in the outfield. How special are they.

There have been some under-the-radar special moments in baseball in the last couple of years. Josh Hamilton destroying his demons in Old Yankee Stadium last July in the Homerun Derby. With each swing of the bat, it seemed like he was slaying yet one more demon after another. Jon Lester throwing a no-hitter after having beat cancer. The more fireballs he threw, the stronger he made us all feel against the powers that threaten to destroy our lives. And now we have the Angels winning the pennant & paying tribute to Nick Adenhart. Reminding us that even when we lose a big part of us, we still have one another. I just wanna break out in praise over God giving us these moments to enjoy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Power 12: The Concussed Edition

I know this is gonna sound insensitive at first, but I hope Tebow is never the same. I really do. Urban Meyer has been getting away with keeping his starters in too long for years now. He hasn't paid for it with a major injury before. But he looked like he was gonna break down in tears yesterday. And I'll say it because no one else is: it's not classy. It's not classy, Urban Meyer, when you continue to trash talk about a team you just beat -- and barely, even though they were woefully out-manned. It's not classy to keep the golden boy in when Kentucky is impotent to score even half of what you already have on the scoreboard. It should've been an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on every play that Tebow took a snap in the 2nd half. Because that's what this behavior is: unsportsmanlike.

So let's all dispense with the "Urban Meyer is classy" nonsense. Sure, maybe he doesn't grab his visor & squirm on every other play like the old Gator ballcoach. But if that's your standard of "classy," Gator fans, then I'm gonna say you guys have low standards.

I'm not even sure why we even feel the need to brag about how classy our football coaches are anyway. We pay these men to motivate & discipline teenagers to go out in front of tens of thousands and rip the other team's head off. What's classy about that? Heck, some say Gene Stallings was the classiest coach Alabama ever had. But that never stopped him from dog-cussing referee's whenever a call didn't go the Tide's way. And that's what he should've been doing; that's his job.

But running up the score? Psh. You get what you deserve, Meyer. And that's a Tebow who may never be the same bull of a quarterback. Your judgment cometh, and that right soon!

[/ diatribe]

I'm feeling fired up! I'm gonna be bold today...

1.) Alabama : All everyone said all week about 'Bama/Arky was that the Hogs were an unstoppable force of an offense that was led by the best offensive guru in football and a gigantic cannon-armed quarterback. Well, unstoppable force, meet the immovable object. Alabama's defense handled them to the tune of 7 points & 254 yards of total offense. They made Arkansas' special offense look short-bus special.

Plus, Alabama beat the Hokies, who have looked dang good since then. The more I watch the cream of the crop in the SEC (that'd be the state Universities of Alabama and Florida), the more this doesn't feel like 2008 anymore.

2.) Florida : Get well soon, Timmy. Wouldn't want you to miss our date in December.
3.) Texas : if they win out, they're in the Championship Game no questions asked. They may even could drop one between now & the Big XII Championship game and still get the sympathy vote. The Longhorns look like they have a date with an SEC Champion in their future.
4.) Boise State
5.) Virginia Tech
6.) Miami : Blame it on the rain.
7.) Houston : The latest non-BCS darling.
8.) Oklahoma State
9.) Oregon
10.) LSU
11.) USC
12.) Georgia : The cardiac kids of 2009.

Dropped Out: Penn State, Cal, and Ole Miss

I'm embarrassed that I caved & ranked Ole Miss in the top 10 last week. I knew I should've trusted my instincts. PSU & Cal are sure to be back up in the Power 12 before long, especially if those Cal Bears knock off those Trojans in 6 days.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Power 12: The Not-Quite-Revenge Edition

Even though they won, it was a bitter-sweet Saturday for the top two. I left UF at #1 even though they lost to Tennessee 13-23. ;) I feel bad for my Gator-loving friends that they weren't able to truly fulfill their blood-lust for Lane Kiffin. Same deal for Texas against the Red Raiders: seems like they're mildly disappointed that Tech kept it tight.

Here's my 12

1.) Florida
2.) Texas
3.) Alabama
4.) Boise State
5.) Miami
6.) Penn State
7.) Cal
8.) LSU
9.) Ole Miss : first appearance in the 12. I'm much more down on them than just about everybody else. They won't challenge for the SEC West. But they may just give 'Bama their hardest game of the regular season.
10.) Virginia Tech
11.) USC : that was SO predictable that it wasn't even close to shocking. It's like USC scripts this every year: win big in non-conference, then lose a game to a team you're supposed to wallop. Trojan fans must feel like it's Groundhog Day.
12.) Oklahoma State

Dropped Out: BYU, Georgia Tech, and Georgia

Apologies to Mormons & the Peach State

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Power 12: Reunion Weekend Edition

It's not often you get to see two totally different sets of people that you haven't seen in a decade. Friday night, it was the first event of a weekend-long High School Reunion. Everyone bowled. I "bowled." (Note the appropriate use of quotation marks... unlike all of the examples of the inappropriate use of quotation marks posted at this site) I think we all had a merry time together that night.

And then I drove down to Gainesville (my old campus ministry friends call it Titletown) to spend the day with a bunch of cocky Gators. They made fun of my crimson shirt. I just kept muttering to myself, "Enjoy it while you can..."

On to my 12

1.) Florida
2.) Texas
3.) USC : never (EVER!) bet against Pete Carroll in big games.
4.) Alabama : can I say that I like this quarterback? McElroy can sling it!
5.) Boise State
6.) BYU
7.) Georgia Tech
8.) Penn State
9.) LSU
10.) Virginia Tech
11.) Oklahoma State
12.) Georgia

Dropped Out: Ohio State

Sounds like it was a heart-breaker, Bob.

So here's what it looks like to me right now. You've got the top 4: they're the elite. They each have elite talent. And though each will be tested along the way, it looks like none of them should lose unless they beat themselves.

Then you've got the two non-BCS conference schools up to no good. They actually both look pretty good.

And then there's the rest of the field. We'll learn a little more about the Wramblin' Wreck when they travel down to Miami this week. Penn State we probably won't learn anything about until October. Same with LSU.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Power 12: Executive Suite Edition

It was an unprecedented vacation. I played 90 holes of golf in 4 days. And I finished that little run in style, with the final 18 coming at the #1 ranked public course in Alabama. And if that wasn't enough, I got to witness my Tide beat up the Hokies in person. And I did that in style, too: my Uncle got me into an executive suite luxury box in the Georgia Dome. It was entirely as cool as it sounds. On to the 12...

1.) Florida : Sorry Matt. You don't get free Chick-Fil-a for beating Charleston Southern.
2.) Texas
3.) USC
4.) Alabama : "You were beautiful, Atlanta. See you again in 3 months."
5.) Oklahoma State : Looked impressive against my lousy-looking sleeper pick
6.) Boise State : nice win. But Oregon didn't look the same offensively without Bellotti.
7.) Georgia Tech : my bias is showing here. I just love watching Paul Johnson's offense do their thing.
8.) BYU
9.) Penn State
10.) LSU
11.) Ohio State
12.) Georgia

Dropped Out: Oklahoma and Virginia Tech

Sorry Sooners. Call back when you have a QB.

Florida & Texas are the top dogs. Those two are entrenched until they do something to prove they don't belong.

USC and Alabama are the 2nd tier elite. Boy, how embarrassing would it be for the Big 10 if the Trojans waltz into the Horseshoe this weekend with a TRUE freshman quarterback and just have their way with the Buckeyes? That might happen. If it does, USC will get the bump back up to the top tier. Alabama will have to prove they can play in the other 3 quarters of a game before they make the leap up.