The Game

We are now a week into the 2017 baseball season. My high school team is 2-0, the Mets are 2-3 due to a lackluster offense, and surprisingly the Diamondbacks and Twins have the two best records in the MLB.

During the winter, exciting basketball games make me forget about how great baseball is. Baseball seems to beckon the summer, as it comes with warmer weather and the school year winding down.

The complexity of the game makes other sports seem so simple. Of course, every sport comes down to the little things. However, I can’t think of a sport with more little things than baseball. If the pitcher had gotten that sacrifice bunt down to move the runner to third, the fly ball would have scored a run. If that 0-2 curveball was in the dirt and not left in the strike zone, maybe the hitter wouldn’t have hit a home run.

I could go on and on. Moreover, when you have less than a second to decide if the small sphere coming in at 90 miles per hour is a ball or strike, and then manage to put a good swing on it. That is, if it’s a fastball. It could also be a curveball, cutter, slider, changeup, or even a knuckleball. Point is, getting a hit 3 out of every 10 times is considered great for a reason.

Then comes the mental part. Having struggled with the mental part of the game myself, I know a few things about it. Knowing what to do on every pitch, being able to interpret signs, and being able to anticipate the play aren’t even that hard compared to the most challenging aspect of baseball: having a short memory.

Baseball is a hard game. It was built like that for a reason. When you strikeout, are you gonna be able to put it behind you, or are you gonna be thinking about it during your next at bat? If it’s the latter, chances are you’re going to strike out again. Baseball is different from basketball, soccer, hockey, and lacrosse in terms of time when the ball is in play.

Baseball games usually range from two and a half hours to three and a half. Out of that time period, the baseball is in play (on average) for about 20 minutes. If you have a calculator, you’ll notice that there’s quite a bit of time when it’s just you and your mind. While the ball isn’t in play, it is so easy to replay your last strikeout or error in your head, and dwell on it for way too long. Doing that is suicide. If you’re dwelling on your past failures, rather than confidently approaching the upcoming pitch, chances are you’re gonna make another error.

All of that being said, baseball is incredibly hard – which makes it so fun when you succeed. I’ve basically been playing with most of my teammates since we were 8 years old, and this is our last year together. The first month and half has been a blast, and our bond helped us come together and rally to score 7 unanswered runs to beat Nutley 7-2. I’m really excited and looking forward to the rest of the spring and (of course) the summer.

March Madness Preview

Huge arenas, crazy student sections, loyal alumni, lovers of the game, energetic cheerleaders, devoted bands, defiant referees, passionate coaches, and the blood, sweat, and tears of some of the most talented college athletes in the world.

From emphatic dunks to buzzer beaters, college basketball rises to new heights and relevance once March rolls around, as the 68-team, single-elimination tournament that caps off the season always seems to stun the world.

The first ever NCAA basketball championship tournament took place in 1939. However, the term “March Madness” was not used back then for this tournament. It didn’t become the well-known term it is today until 1982, when prominent sports announcer Brent Musberger dubbed the tournament “March Madness”. By 1988, the NCAA had trademarked the term for the college basketball tournament.

March Madness caught fire immediately. In 1992, over 34 million people tuned in to watch the final game of the tournament between Duke and Michigan. In 2011, CBS signed a deal to pay about $771 million per year (through 2024) for TV rights to the tournament. To put things in perspective, back in 1982, CBS signed a deal to pay $39 million per year (through 1985) in present day value.

With the popularity of March Madness steadily increasing since then, more people began to join NCAA March Madness bracket pools. Participants fill out a bracket, predicting the outcomes of every game in the tournament, and bet money that their bracket will be the most accurate in the pool.

According to WalletHub’s website, in 2015, an estimated $9 billion was wagered on brackets, with an estimated 70 million brackets created by Americans. In comparison, Barack Obama only received about 66 million votes in the 2012 election.

The odds of predicting a perfect bracket are as low as 9.2 quintillion to one, and as high as 128 billion to one. Meanwhile, the odds of the Cleveland Browns winning the Super Bowl next year are 225 to one, the odds of any Kanye West winning the 2020 presidential election are 100 to one, and the odds of being struck by lightning in a lifetime are 3,000 to one.

A perfect bracket is so unlikely that Warren Buffett offered $1 billion to anyone who created a perfect bracket in 2014. According to NCAA’s website, the longest any 2015 online bracket went without getting a game wrong was 25 games. That bracket was only 38 games away from getting all 63 games right. No one has ever had a verified perfect bracket.

Every team is on upset alert in March. This year, the 68-team field will be announced on March 12, and the madness will begin on March 16, ultimately finishing with the National Championship on April 3 in Phoenix, Arizona.

I am hoping Michigan somehow finds a way to get into the tournament, but right now it’s not looking so good. To me, there aren’t any amazing teams this year that are clear favorites to win it all.

If I were to make a mid-February prediction, I would predict that Kansas wins it all. Kansas may not be the most talented, but experience and maturity goes a long way in March, and between Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham, the Kansas backcourt has quite the experience.

 

 

Super Bowl Sunday

This upcoming Sunday marks the 51st time people have gathered with friends, food, and drinks to watch funny commercials and the NFL Championship. It’s Super Bowl Sunday.

For a high schooler like myself, it’s probably the only sunday night that you’re looking forward to. Other than Super Bowl Sunday, sunday nights are just a huge sigh as you start thinking about the incredibly long week of school that will start the next morning.

On Super Bowl Sunday, family friends get together to enjoy a night that celebrates the game of football. There’s usually some betting, and sometimes the Giants, Steelers, or Patriots are in it.

In my community, this would mean someone at the party is both nervous and excited to see their favorite team take the field. This year, the Patriots take on the Atlanta Falcons, who are quite the juggernaut that no one really saw coming.

With a coaching staff headlined by Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons cruised past the Packers with ease in the NFC Championship, making a crystal clear statement that the Patriots will get a run for their money.

The Falcons are in the Super Bowl for the 2nd time in franchise history, and haven’t been there since 1999. On the other hand, this isn’t Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s first rodeo. This will be Brady and Belichick’s 7th Super Bowl appearance, and they’ve been very successful other than the two times against my Giants.

This game is very hard to predict. It’s hard to pick against Brady and the system, but the Falcons blew threw the NFC with ease. Both teams are more offensive minded, but both defenses have been overachievers.

In the past, the Giants were able to beat Brady with pressure. If the Falcons can dominate the New England offensive line, it could be a long day for Brady. The Falcons have Vic Beasley Jr, who led the NFL in sacks this year and could be a difference maker on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Falcons offense has the weapons to gash any defense, and they’ve proved it. Between Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Taylor Gabriel, and Mohammed Sanu, Matt Ryan has a handful of playmakers around him.

While I would like to see the Falcons shock the world, I would also like to see Tom Brady silence the haters once again. Brady went to Michigan, so he is automatically my boy. The best QB of all time is constantly debated, but I want Brady to solidify himself as the best ever.

Without Gronk for most of the year, Brady has led the Patriots to convincing wins with a receiving core consisting of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, rookie Malcolm Mitchell, and Danny Amendola. In the AFC Championship, Brady made Chris Hogan look like Randy Moss.

If the Patriots can beat the incredibly talented, well-coached Falcons on Sunday, the argument for Brady only gets stronger.

I can’t make a prediction, but I will say that I hope it’s a crazy game and Brady throws the winning touchdown in the final moments.

Looking Back on 2015

The past year of sports has been very entertaining, while teaching a few lessons along the way. The usual culprits continued to dominate, as Duke basketball won a National Championship, the Patriots won a super bowl, and Alabama football made the College Football Playoff.

Emerging powerhouses built on their success, with the Warriors winning the NBA Finals and the Royals winning the World Series. Floyd Mayweather defeated Manny Pacquiao, and the US Women’s National Team won the world cup.

Like always, there were blowouts, upsets, and heartbreaking losses.

It seemed like the Seahawks had the Super Bowl in the bag, being in the redzone with just seconds remaining, a few yards away from their second straight super bowl win. However, a controversial play call resulted in an interception by Malcolm Butler, and the Patriots stole the game.

I had the privilege of being present at the Michigan vs Michigan State football game. It seemed like the Wolverines had the game in the bag, all they had to do was catch a snap and punt the ball. What could go wrong?

A low snap, fumbled by the nervous punter. He tries to pick it up and get rid of it, despite being surrounded by Spartans. Jalen Watts-Jackson grabs the ball and runs all the way to the endzone as time expires.

I also had the privilege of being at Game 6 of the World Series. The Mets seemed to be unstoppable in the National League playoffs. In Game 1 of the world series, the Mets blew a lead in the 9th inning, and ended up losing in extra innings.

The trend continued, as the Mets gave up late game leads throughout the whole series. The worst was Game 6, when the Mets had their backs against the wall. Matt Harvey had pitched a gem, and received a huge ovation as he sprinted out to finish the 9th inning.

In that moment, being a part of that electric crowd, I felt like this could be the turning point of the series. However, I was soon drained of my hope and optimism. Harvey blew the lead in the 9th, and the Mets lost the series in extra innings.

There’s nothing worse than the feeling after a heartbreaking loss. I sat in the stadium, the silent Mets fans painfully listening to the small band of Royals fans celebrate their win. The silent Michigan fans astounded as Michigan State celebrated in the endzone.

These two experiences caused me to think long and hard in the quiet car ride home, as well as the days afterwards.

It’s just a game. After a heartbreaking loss, the only way to move forward is to forget about it. In most sports, it’s extremely difficult to succeed without having a short memory. In addition, this concept can be applied to everyday life.

If we continue to dwell on the past, it will be so much harder to improve in the future. It’s not about the loss itself. It’s how you respond from that. 2016 can be that more successful if we learn from our mistakes and keep the past in the past.

A True Fan

Every sports team has a loyal fan base, whether it’s the players’ parents or an entire city. Sports fans have their own reasons for why they cheer for that team. Some people like the Golden State Warriors, simply because they are the best team in the league.

Some people, including myself, like the teams that their parents like, which has (at times) been quite unfortunate for me. Everybody has their reasons, but what makes a real fan?

This has been a frequent topic of argument amongst my friends recently, always started by someone accusing another person of being a “fake fan”. This accusation is then followed by an exchange that may include a few words I wouldn’t repeat.

The most common scenario has been the conflict between fantasy football and the NFL. Can you rightfully cheer for a player on your fantasy team if they’re playing against your beloved Giants?

Another common situation has someone rooting for more than one team, or different teams based on their favorite players. Are you a true fan if you cheer for multiple teams?

It’s very obvious that being a frontrunner does not make a true fan. It’s easy to decide to root for the Panthers this year, because they have the best record in the league. Meanwhile, the true fans have been supporting the team for many tough, super bowl-less years.

I think the first pillar of being a true fan is having a valid reason to support that team. If a family member goes to college, of course you can rightfully root for that team now. If you live in St. Louis, it would make sense to be a Rams fan. If you were raised under the roof of Lakers fans, it would make sense to be a Lakers fan.

However, there comes a point when the line is drawn. If the 3rd string quarterback of the Panthers went to the same college as your cousin, that’s too much of a stretch to be a valid reason.

The second pillar is always putting your team first. For example, if you are a Steelers fan, betting against the Steelers is a big NO. If you have Adrian Peterson on your fantasy team, and the Steelers are playing Peterson’s team, you’re a true fan if you put Peterson on your bench.

The last pillar is commitment. To be a loyal fan, you have to be committed forever. A true fan doesn’t give up on his team, especially to the point where he switches teams.

In my opinion, having been amongst electric crowds, and playing with large crowds watching, the game is nothing without the fans. The players feed off of the crowd, which gives the game a whole new element of excitement.

It’s truly amazing that people with different backgrounds, living circumstances, occupations, and opinions can all go to one place with the same purpose and goal, helping the team they love win.

The Gym Teacher

Everyone has (or has had) that one gym teacher who is simply hilarious. Some have good senses of humor, while others are just hilarious. Our beloved high school gym teacher, for fitness, is quite the character. It’s impossible to leave his weight room without laughing, and you can always look forward to his class.

He’s a fairly short man, probably in his late 40s, with puffy black hair and glasses. He is a die-heart Green Bay Packers, and he clearly wants everyone in the school to know that. On a typical day, he will be wearing green or yellow Packers shorts, with a Packers jersey or shirt. It’s rare to see him without green or yellow on.

Aaron Rodgers, the Packers star quarterback, wears #12 on his jersey. So, for pushups, situps, leg presses, whatever it may be… we have to do sets of 12. It seems that he knows every Packers player ever, as he answers all of my difficult Packers questions correctly. He claims that he went to Green Bay a few years ago, and spent $800 at the Packers Team Store.

He also claims that he wakes up at 2am every morning, watches the movie Rocky, works out, then comes to school. His early morning routine never ceases to amaze and impress people.

He has a signature saying, and just about every student at my school has heard it. When he sees something that is dissatisfying, such as a student not dressed for gym or bad behavior, he will shake his head and say, “Summer school!”

Besides his signature phrase, he has a few other phrases that he throws out to every class:

  • “Hard work!”
  • “Gotta work hard to be hard!”
  • “When in doubt, do pushups”
  • “Stop texting, start flexing”
  • “Don’t be lazy get crazy!”
  • “Hustle, hit, and never quit”
  • “Burn it to earn it”
  • “Are you a man or a mouse?”

…and that’s all he says. He paces around the room, repeating those phrases, decked out in Green Bay Packers attire. He’s that funny gym teacher I’ll never forget.

Falling out of Summer

It’s that time of year again. The summer went by so fast, just like every other summer. As much as I am dreading going back to school, I do look forward to fall. After all, fall is the best season.

I love fall for many reasons. In Jersey, all the bugs go away, and temperatures are not overwhelmingly hot or cold. There isn’t as much rain as spring, so fall is definitely my favorite season.

And with the nice weather, the fall brings football back. Michigan and the Giants play on Saturday and Sunday every weekend for most of the fall season. I always look forward to cheering on my teams as they take the field each fall.

And when football is on, you already know I will be on the computer constantly checking my fantasy football score. Fantasy football is back, and it makes the NFL so much more entertaining. In my opinion, it’s by far the best fantasy sport, and this year I’m going for the 3-peat in the league with all of my friends. Wish me luck.

This fall has a special significance, though, because I am starting high school. I already have my schedule, which actually made me a little more excited for school. But I’m not too excited for nine months in a classroom.

In addition to the academic aspect, I also get to play soccer. Eventually, (hopefully), I will play hoops in the winter, and baseball in the spring. At the beginning of the summer, which is the heart of baseball season, I was debating whether I really wanted to play soccer.

I’m really glad my parents forced me to tryout. I’m in the starting lineup so far, and it’s actually really fun! I like the coach, and I’m pretty sure he likes me. I like all my teammates, and we look to be pretty good this year.

My dad is always telling me to have a positive attitude towards everything, so I’m trying my best to forget the fact that the summer is over and school is starting. It’s a little easier though, since football and soccer make up for it all!

The transition from summer to fall is definitely the most difficult for me. In the summer, there is much less responsibility, and you don’t have to worry about a lot. However, as fall begins, I begin to feel that I have a lot of responsibility, and a lot of things to do, whether it’s sports, school, or anything else.

Regardless, I look forward to embark on a new journey as I begin high school!

 

The Stolen Bike

The day started out like any other day: Wake up, go to soccer. The start of the season is right around the corner, and after practice we were required to go to the high school to take a concussion baseline test.

So, I went home after practice, yawning while explaining to my mom that I would have to report to the high school in a little bit. She simply nodded, and of course, after a short period of time passed, I biked to the high school.

I saw my friends’ bikes locked to two different poles in front of the school.

Without hesitation, I placed me bike right next to the locked bikes, since I don’t own a lock. I failed to remind myself about the ramifications of leaving my bike unlocked.

Anyway, I marched into the high school, and after a brief explanation, I was seated in front of a computer, and proceeded to answer a lot of questions for the baseline test. I tried to get the best score, while not wasting any time to get out of there and get on with the rest of my day.

A feeling of relief washed over me as I walked out of the room, finally done with the test. Eager to see what the rest of the day had in store, I met my friends outside.

They all started walking quickly towards me, a serious look on their faces.

One said, “Jake, was your bike next to ours? Dude someone took it!”

Now, I had heard something similar to this before. I told them to stop messing around; thinking that they had hid it, knowing it wasn’t locked. They pushed on, insisting they had seen someone riding away on my expensive bike.

I didn’t buy their story. Not until they told the security guard to call the police. My face hardened, and I asked, “Wait, are you serious?”

To which they replied in unison, “Yes!”

It was then when I realized my bike had been stolen, since this would be too far for a prank. The security guard called the police. He made me, and my friends (the witnesses), write our names and phone numbers on a piece of paper.

Then, he ushered us outside and asked where my bike was placed, and we quickly showed him. Unfortunately, there were no surveillance cameras that looked at that specific spot.

The police officer got there and asked for all of my information, and a description of my bike. He then asked my friends for a description of the man that took the bike. They also told the officer that they yelled to the guy, telling him to give the bike back.

The police officer eventually left, after saying he’d do his best to find the bike. I had nothing better to do, so I went into town for lunch with another friend, who wasn’t a witness. I was mad, because throughout the summer, I had biked everywhere. As I was still trying to contemplate everything, I got a call.

I got a call from one of my other friends, who said they had found my bike in a bush on the other side of the high school, and that the bike was being taken to the police station.

Puzzled that the bike had turned up so quickly, I called my mom, who picked me up and we went to the police station. After lots of paperwork, I was able to take my bike home. It was pretty wild.

I have several ideas of what could’ve happened, but I reckon the guy stole the bike, heard my friends yelling at him, realized he had been seen in broad daylight, and dumped the bike back at the high school.

Who knows, but that’s just my guess. Regardless, I have my bike, and you bet I’m getting a bike lock now!

 

 

 

 

 

A Day at the Court

Today was an unusual Sunday for Maplewood in the middle of January- warm. And tomorrow is gonna be 55 and sunny! Not too shabby at all.

Anyway, my friends and I had to take advantage of the rare, warm weather. So, bright and early, after a couple of text messages, we got together at the most evident place: The Dawkins’.

The Dawkins are our family friends and they live pretty close to all of us. They have a nice basketball court that is pretty much always available for our use. Normally, we start off with a pickup game, periodically swapping players to make the teams fair.

At some point, it’ll get boring. In this instance, we resort to a tournament, either 2-on-2 or 3-on-3, which is supposedly more entertaining. I would actually have to agree on that one.

But today, today was a different day. We decided to do something different, something unthought of… Something that would change the world. No, not really. But it was pretty fun.

Instead of another pickup game, we had an idea. It all started when we were scrolling through an app called Vine. To sum it up, Vine is a simple social media app in which you post videos, and you see other people’s videos.

At one point, we came across something awesome. It was a video of five guys pull off a ridiculous alley-oop. We were officially inspired.

The first step was lowering the basket, to allow one of us to actually get a slam dunk. Then, the choreography. That was hard. But finally, we each knew our roles and what we had to do.

And yet, executing it was a lot harder than we thought. Only it was then when we realized how many attempts it must’ve taken to put together that Vine video.

After many tries that were so unsuccessful, we figured that we could never get it as perfect as that spectacular Vine video. However, it was determined that we couldn’t just leave our incredible idea in the dust.

Despite our brief disappointment, we put together a solid video of my friend pulling off some nifty dunks….

DunkVideo

Maybe, if I hit my growth spurt soon, I will be able to dunk on a regular sized hoop. Well, I probably shouldn’t count on that. But who knows?

I mean, I definitely won’t be able to throw ’em down like my boy Tim Hardaway Jr. who recently had a monstrous put-back dunk over two defenders. Fresh outta the University of Michigan!

Anyway, maybe we will resume our alley-oop filmmaking tomorrow. However, it was definitely a memorable winter day!