Thursday, July 15, 2010

Big Day for the Shanoff Boys

Can you remember the first game you went to? I certainly can't. When you become a parent, it becomes this opportunity for you to experience that through your kid.

My older son, now 4, has been to a local (low-level D1) college basketball game and a Knicks game. He has been to a minor-league baseball game. He even went to the Swamp for a game (when he was 2... he lasted all of 5 minutes. Atrocious parenting choice.)

But he has never been to a Major League Baseball game, arguably the quintessential first real sports event for a parent and child.

I could have taken him to the Mets or -- ugh -- Yankees. But a year ago, my dad set up a trip for he, my wife and kids and my siblings (and sibs-in-law) to meet in Chicago this weekend. The big reason is to celebrate the centennial of my late grandfather, my dad's dad -- a Chicago lifer.

As it happens, when the MLB schedule came out last winter, we checked and the Cubs were going to be in town, playing the Phillies. That seemed like the ideal moment to bring the kid to his first game. Tickets were secured.

And so this afternoon, I will be giving my kid his first experience with Major League Baseball in what I can only consider the ideal way: The classic Friday afternoon game at Wrigley.

There is no better first impression about baseball that can be made to a young fan.

What makes it all the more special is that my dad -- who grew up in Chicago a Cubs fan -- will be there, in the same stadium where his own father took him to games a half-century ago.

And I will be there, too. Even living in D.C., I grew up a HUGE Cubs fan. I'm not sure my dad pressed that on me, as much as I chose to embrace the Cubs. Maybe I wanted that as a special relationship with him. I certainly enjoyed being unique -- a Cubs fan in an Orioles town.

In that magical Cubs year of 1984, I was 11 -- precisely the age where I argue that fandom begins to really take shape. One of my first sports-fan memories that I can remember? Watching on TV, as the ball skirted through Leon Durham's glove.

I vividly remember calling my local cable company, begging them to carry WGN so I could watch the Cubs, just like I did when I would visit my grandparents in Chicago.

Ryne Sandberg was my favorite player -- he remains my favorite baseball player of all time.

When I was filling out my facebook -- no, not Facebook -- profile for college, I listed among my hobbies "Chicago Cubs." I had this worn-in Cubs hat I wore EVERYWHERE.

I ostensibly went to Northwestern for the journalism school, but a massive bonus was that I would finally be living in the same town as the Cubs. I could join my brethren.

I definitely took advantage of the experience, attending plenty of those Friday afternoon home games before hitting the cheesy Division Street bars for happy hour specials, then trucking home on the Evanston Express El line.

(Ironically, through my four years of college, my Cubs fandom actually eroded. Too much armchair psychology packed in there to get into it here.)

After college, I got an apartment with two buddies on Addison, a couple long tosses from Wrigley itself. On game days and nights, we would sit on our porch, sometimes sharing beers with passing fans, sometimes getting a stray ticket and wandering over for a few innings. This was (almost entirely) pre-internet, pre-cellphone. Looking back, it was like living in the 1950s.

I'm not sure where I stand with the Cubs right now -- I'm certainly sympathetic, although I wouldn't insult true die-hard Cubs fans by calling myself a "fan." When it looked like the Cubs were going to make the World Series, I was conflicted, because I felt like I didn't deserve to celebrate, having not hung on to my childhood fervor for the team.

I think it's enough that I was a die-hard Cubs fan when I was a kid, at the formation of my sports fandom. They were my first team. Even if, quite atypically, they don't remain your team, there is a very special place for your first team. That said, I can only imagine what 14-year-old me would think of me now. He'd probably say, "Florida? Well, at least you married a hottie.")

Being a Cubs fan is in my DNA, metaphorically (as the first team I chose to die-hard root for) and literally (they are my father's team, and his father's team). That makes it in my kids' DNA, too.

There are a couple traditional roots to fandom: Geography (growing up in the region of the team), Serendipity (getting into a certain college) and Biology (who your parents root for).

The fact is that if your parents root for a certain team and "encourage" their children to root for that team -- and that is either sentimentally awesome or the worst kind of overbearing -- chances are the kid is going to turn out to be a fan of that team.

I think teams and sports leagues don't recognize and promote this nearly enough: They could spend their marketing dollars trying to get adults in town with a casual or passive interest in the sport or team to attend their games... or they could try to lock in to the kids through the parents, creating a spectacular lifetime customer value for themselves.

I went to the Cubs' website to try to find something specifically for parents taking their kids to a game. I found a cheesy "Kids' Club" section -- made for kids, not parents -- but nothing for this particular situation.

I did like the fact that the team had a section on the site about Cubs fandom being a "Way of Life" -- not far off from what I'm talking about -- but little in the way of promoting the parent-kid-Cubs connection. If you know of a team that does a good job of this, let me know. (I'm certain that there are certain minor-league baseball franchises that must excel at this.)

The fact is that the experience of me taking my kid to their first baseball game stands up on its own. The Cubs could do nothing but open the gates to Wrigley and we will be fine.

I couldn't ask for a better introduction for my kid to Major League Baseball. (His little brother, not yet 2, will spend the game exploring Wrigleyville with his aunt and uncle. Bros pacifying bros?) Even if my kid doesn't end up rooting for the Cubs for his lifetime, starting off his baseball fandom with a day game at Wrigley will plant the seed that baseball is a wonderful game worth his energy -- and particularly worth attending in person.

He already knows the lyrics to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." He already has a Cubs hat. Our seats are in the 500-level, literally the worst seats in the house.

But just being inside Wrigley with him makes this one of my favorite days yet as a parent and a fan.

-- D.S.

(I'll try to tweet and TweetPic and video-tweet as we go. Follow along at @danshanoff.)

07/15 Quickie: 2nd Half Picks

For reasons I'll explain a little later this morning, today's SN column led with a very global view of the sports world.

Coming off the annual Slowest Sports Day of the Year, it was a good moment to take a look at the 2nd half of the sports year with 10 predictions for the rest of 2010.

They include some oldie-but-goodies: Boise State wins the college football national title, Tim Tebow accounting for 10 TDs, one of Miami's Big Three getting injured early in the NBA season.

Otherwise, it's a light day:

*Did Vandy's Bobby Johnson burn out? It's only the toughest job in college football. And he did it astoundingly well, I would say.

*Shaq on the Knicks? Ugh.

*Seth Meyers' opening monologue last night at the ESPYs was terrific. The SNL-style skits? Hit or miss. Janelle Monae? Phenomenal.

*I will continue to contend that the Saints' onside kick in the Super Bowl was the Play of the Year -- it didn't even make the short list fans could vote on.

This seems crazy to me. It wasn't just the Play of the Year, but arguably the greatest play (and play call) in the history of the NFL. It deserves its own ESPY for awesomeness.

(I probably should have led today's column with that, now that I think of it. Glad I have the blog! More on that later.)

See the complete column here. Oh, and today is the 1-year anniversary of's launch. And tomorrow I am taking my older son to his first MLB game -- at Wrigley, no less. So there's that!

-- D.S.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Highly Recommended: Joe Sheehan

The slowest sports day of the year -- certainly the slowest day of the baseball season -- is an ideal time to enthusiastically promote Joe Sheehan’s email newsletter.

It’s very simple: Joe Sheehan’s email newsletter about baseball is likely the best $20 I have spent on media this year.

Let me unpack that:

When Sheehan -- a pillar of Baseball Prospectus and one of the smartest baseball writers in the world -- first launched an email newsletter you pay to receive, I loved the idea.

On one level, I applaud his entrepreneurialism -- both to strike out on his own and to value his content enough to charge for it. On another level, I was excited to read him in this format. I think Sheehan is in the Top 3 baseball writers in the country (and the only reason I wouldn’t rank him No. 1 outright is because I can’t bring myself to dislodge Rob Neyer and there is a regular rotation of great baseball writers I would include in my Top 3. But Sheehan is on the Rushmore.)

I didn’t immediately subscribe -- looking back, that was an error. I was talking with Leitch a few weeks ago and Sheehan came up. I mentioned that I had been meaning to subscribe -- Will couldn’t recommend it more highly.

Already entirely ready to support Sheehan’s start-up, I quickly signed up: $20 via PayPal. Half-a-dozen newsletters in, I feel like the subscription has already paid for itself. That I have what will probably end up being 40 editions left between now and the World Series (there could be plenty more, depending on how enthusiastic Joe is) feels like the greatest kind of bargain. In short: I love it.

If you are a huge baseball fan, you will appreciate the baseball insights of an expert. If you are a less intense fan -- like me -- you will
really appreciate him.

Sheehan picks out the most interesting stories, then gives you insights you won’t find elsewhere and that -- and this is really big for me -- will make you smarter as a fan.

Let me say that again: I am a better baseball fan for being a Sheehan newsletter subscriber. I am smarter. That’s all I want from my analysis: Make me a smarter fan, and don’t demand too much of my time or energy to do it.

At this point, I anxiously look forward to Sheehan’s latest emails, and when they arrive, I devour them. I've got one waiting in my in-box right now, featuring his notes from the All-Star Game and his take on George Steinbrenner.

I can’t recommend the newsletter highly enough. Even for half a season, it is entirely worth $20. Even if you are only a casual baseball fan, it is entirely worth $20.

(When I say casual, I mean you should like and follow baseball. It's not for people looking for a shallow, Quickie-esque survey of the big headlines. Though we love those kind of people very much!)

With Joe, though, you will, however, get an incredibly interesting perspective that, when parroted in the office or on the barstool, will impress your co-workers and friends who DO love baseball - and to whom you should especially recommend to get this newsletter, too.)

Beyond its immediate value as phenomenal baseball analysis, I love supporting an independent voice.

Click here to get to Joe's website and subscribe.

(Even better: This month, he is donating a portion of all subscriptions to a charity dedicated to cancer research.)

-- D.S.

07/14 Quickie: Boss, NL All-Stars, More

At his essence, George Steinbrenner was about winning. Sometimes at all costs, sometimes with strange methods, but I believe you can say his heart was in the right place.

If you believe winning is everything.

I would contend that -- in addition to a sense of belonging to a community and maintaining a version of a public trust -- an extreme commitment to winning is an ideal quality in your sports team owner.

Now, Steinbrenner enjoyed some tremendous financial advantages that allowed him to spend-spend-spend on the Yankees.

But consider the larger point: He spent. He reinvested, always. Everything went back into the business, with the goal to make the team a winner.

As you all know, I have spent the last few years fairly obsessed with the notion of "Championship or Failure." Perhaps that's why Steinbrenner's maniacal focus on winning championships resonated with me.

You can question his methods. You cannot question his intentions.

More in today's SN column:

*If you are college-aged or younger, last night was probably the first NL win in an All-Star Game you can ever remember.

*Do Al Jefferson and Tyson Chandler make the Jazz and Mavs contenders in the West? I certainly wouldn't pick them over the Lakers, but I like that they are continuing to try to contend for a title. They will remain on my very short list of teams sincerely attempting that.

*Stanford clocks in at No. 51 on SN's preseason CFB countdown, and I contend that not only will Andrew Luck out-rank Jake Locker among Pac-10 QBs, but Luck will finish the season as 1st-team All-America at QB... and the top-picked QB in the 2011 NFL Draft.

(Between Luck, Locker and -- at least according to scouts -- Ponder, it should be a solid QB class at the top of next year's draft. Makes you wonder if the Rams -- who will undoubtedly have a top choice -- blew it by taking Bradford over Suh, when they could have had an even better prospect a year from now. Yes, I think Luck and Locker are better pro prospects than Bradford, who has yet to prove he can withstand a pounding from BYU linemen, let alone NFC linemen.)

*I am predicting a big night for the Saints at the ESPYs tonight.

*The Old Spice viral video campaign yesterday was absolutely brilliant.

Complete SN column here. More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

07/13 Quickie: Boss, ASG, Wall, More

News just broke that George Steinbrenner is dead. There will be a TON written and said about him today, tomorrow and into the future, but I will leave it with this:

"The Boss" was the most larger-than-life owner in the history of U.S. sports: A bombastic, obsessive manager who ranks at the top of the most competitive people in sports history.

Of the many, many things to remember about him, this is what I will remember most:

He wanted his Yankees to win championships more than any other thing. It drove all of his decision-making, for better and worse. He spent whatever he needed to and demanded success.

I respect that he felt an obligation for the Yankees to be the greatest franchise in sports -- and he lived with that obligation always in mind.

Condolences to his family, friends and Yankee fans.

Today's SN column digs into the All-Star Game of fresh faces, Big Papi's Derby revival, John Wall winning over the NBA, the NCAA vs. Facebook, Tim Tebow and EA's NCAA Football 11 and More. See it all here.

-- D.S.

Monday, July 12, 2010

07/12 Quickie: Spain, LeBron, Wall, ASG

So at this point, everyone knows that as it relates to LeBron and the Heat, at best it was highly unseemly and at worst it was tampering with the biggest star in the league.

Now, it probably wouldn't have mattered: LeBron was going to team up with D-Wade and Bosh anyway -- hmm...or would he?

That's the litmus test of true tampering: In the absence of the tamp effort, would LeBron have made a different choice? In this case, it is unclear, one way or the other.

It is a moot point: The NBA will ignore it, and for all the bluster from the Cavs, they had no problems doing a sign-and-trade to give LeBron as much money as possible.

(For those of us who read the signals a long time ago that LeBron was going to abandon Cleveland, it is easy to say in hindsight that the Cavs should have traded him.)

In today's SN column, I led with Paul the Octopus as an excuse to predict that the league wouldn't do anything about LeBron and the Heat's tampering. More in today's column:

*John Wall is going to spend next season living at the free-throw line.

*Spain wins the World Cup: Gotta love the biggest sports thing to ever happen to a country.

(What would be the US analogue? No question: "Miracle on Ice" in 1980. I'm going to narrowly define it, because it is very hard not to put "Jackie Robinson integrates baseball" at No. 1 of any list related to defining sports moments in the US. It's parsing, but maybe that's the difference. Damn, should have led the column with that.)

*Forlan wins the Golden Boot: Love this pick.

*Nick Swisher might not win the HR Derby, but he will make it more fun.

*If the Heat retain Udonis Haslem AND get Derek Fisher, I'll revise my prediction and say they will win the NBA title. But they won't get either.

*Jordan Farmar is coming to Brooklyn. I mean...

*Putting on my octopus hat, I think that Carmelo's marriage lasts longer than Carrie's.

*Totally approve of EA re-signing with ESPN -- and it's brilliant to put her on GameDay (plus extending GameDay by an hour -- ESPN's best studio show).

Packed column today: See it here. More later. Big week!

-- D.S.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday (Holland-Spain) Quickie

I will miss the World Cup. But I enjoy the styles of both the Netherlands and Spain -- it will be a great first-time champ, regardless of who wins. (I'll say... Holland.)

I think the big point is that for whichever country, a World Cup title will be the greatest moment in their sporting history, not unlike France in '98. That is going to be so cool to watch.

Travis Wood: So close!

Cliff Lee's Rangers debut: Complete-game...loss.

Rockies win 6th straight: If you had to put a bet down on the NL West champ, would it be the Padres -- or Colorado? I'm on the Rox bandwagon.

LeBron Watch: "Witness" poster removed. Obviously. (Protection?)

SuperFriends update: Not sure whether I like or hate that nickname yet. But if they can get Derek Fisher, it would be a coup. (Anyone else want to see them sign AI and T-Mac, too?)

NBA Free Agency: Will the Bulls get JJ Redick or will the Magic match? Not a bad situation for the one-time "bust."

(BTW: It's good to be Wes Matthews. All the more reason your draft slot is irrelevant -- it's all about fit and opportunity.)

NBA Summer in Vegas: Derrick Caracer, steal of the draft?

Enjoy your day.

-- D.S.