Thursday, September 13, 2012

#Yicketty, #Mammo, and Cooperstown- the history of @RealCJ10

Very early this year, Chipper Jones announced he will retire at the end of the season. At the age of 40, the Brave who defined the successful run of the 14 division titles, would finally hang up the cleats. If you’ve been curious as to why I’d call a blog “The Bandwagon” and only talk about Penn State- which is not a bandwagon I jumped on but a religion I was baptized in to, well, let’s go down the rabbit hole to Atlanta.

I have been a Braves fan for about 21 years- approximately as long as the Braves have been good; getting the name of the blog now? - and Chipper has been a star for three quarters of that time.  Larry Wayne Jones, Jr has an MVP to his name, came up as a shortstop, moved to third base, then to left field briefly, then back to third base to finish his career. He is a switch hitter and once took a .400 average into the month of July.  This year it seems almost every day brings another stat that Chipper has accomplished in the annals of switch hitters, or players who primarily play third base, or some other stat. If you want a bunch of stats that require research- you’ll have to look elsewhere- we here at The Bandwagon are all about doing as little work as possible.  In easy to research stats, however, Chipper has (as of this writing) 151 tweets.

Wait, what? Yep, let’s talk Twitter- or the twitta- as Chipper calls it. Sure, there have been some athletes who have been twitter sensations. Chad Johnson (I think that’s what his name is this week) immediately jumps to mind, Logan Morrison of the Miami Marlins is probably worth the follow to read him slam twitter tough guys, and Brandon McCarthy joked about his recover via Twitter. Many young athletes have jumped on Twitter, just as many of us have, in less notable fashion. Chipper is different, as he is the antithesis of young.  I am not sure if he was shamed into it, as several Braves such as relief pitcher Peter Moylan and good luck starting pitcher Kris Medlan are fan favorites in the twitterverse.   Fellow Braves, Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons are among other teammates of Chipper that have been on Twitter. Supposedly, catcher Brian McCann secretly has twitter, but no one knows what it is. 

The man Mets fans have chanted Larry at for many years, only to have him crush them at the plate, announced his presence to Braves fans on July 24. Immediately, perhaps related, perhaps not, the Braves reeled off a seven game win streak. Also, Braves fans had to learn a new language, as Chipper has channeled his inner Tolkien and, in providing his post-game recaps, began to refer to things like the road runner, #yicketty, and #mammo.  And the Old Man- or Battle Ax- has not been without his own form of Twitter controversy. When he tweeted about an appointment with Doc (Halladay), manager Fredi Gonzalez (who, while not on twitter himself, has inspired a rather interesting parody account) was notified and had to call his aging star to see if there was anything he should be aware of.  A few days after he began tweeting, the star had to tweet definitions of the words he was using.  

Generally the Braves third baseman has settled into a simple system of providing a post-game recap after each game. He also keeps his followers up to date on when he sits out, something he does a bit more frequently than the average everyday player. Hey, he’s 40, and coming off some major injuries in the past few years. We clearly want his bat in the lineup daily, but on his farewell tour, this just isn’t possible. Generally, he takes off against right handed pitchers, which is a better situation for the left handed Juan Francisco, who serves as his primary back-up and apparently is the one known as Road Runner. Chipper’s strange twitter language has even prompted a line of T-shirts for sale in the Braves team store.

Some guys are absolutely terrible to follow on twitter, either by being boring, blowing up your timeline with useless crap, or generally being weird. Chipper is one of the best pros to follow, despite recently discovering the retweet button a couple days ago, and saturating the twitterverse by retweeting every mention of @realCJ10. He redeemed himself the following day, taking the blame for an error that led to a big inning for the Brewers.  I don’t think Braves fans were blaming Chipper for the error, but he stepped forward like the leader he is.

Baseball will always be a bit of a different animal for fans. The frequency of the games means you connect on a deeper level with the players of a baseball team. You spend much more time watching them than you do for your other favorite teams. Generally, baseball games are on at least two and half hours every day. Twitter has deepened that connection between fans and players, providing an open line of communication between players and fans, outside the approximately three hours a day we spend watching the game and highlights.

On May 2, the Braves out slugged the Phillies in a comeback win that started off terribly for the Braves. A grand slam by McCann to tie the game, and a Chipper walk-off highlighted an improbable win on a random weekday night. Four months later, on September 2, Chipper did the same thing- jacking a three run shot to walk off another improbable comeback win against the Phillies.  This one, however, was commemorated on Twitter, in another refreshing glance into the psyche of a first ballot Hall of Famer.

In five years (or six, whatever, depending on the count from now until he is on the ballot for the first time), Chipper Jones will be in position to live tweet his Hall of Fame speech into Cooperstown.  He has spent this year being an outstanding interview, and providing great insight into the game of baseball. He provided an excellent speech to the National League All Stars. The attention paid to him by his peers was intense, and then his teammates for the day delivered, guaranteeing the National League team in the World Series will have home field advantage. He is a post-strike star, unblemished by the stink and bad taste that year left with baseball fans.  Now that MLB.TV has filled the gap left from TBS no longer showing Braves game on a daily basis, the internet is becoming more pervasive, and our beloved Chipper is on board.  His farewell tour has seen him given various items from bases to surfboards.  As he plays his final games professionally, he has deepened the connection between Braves fans and their favorite player. He has blessed us with those two walk off shots, and has stepped up on some special nights.  When the Braves got off to an atrocious offensive start, it was Chipper who kicked started the offense one night in Houston, with his parents in the crowd. Lately, the offense has begun to the similar to last September and Braves fans are looking to @RealCJ10 to carry the team on aching knees into the post season. We want, more than ever, Chipper’s final game to be a victory.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

PANIC!! (At the...)

Well, frankly I don’t know where. I have refused to go over to my favorite site for the Penn State fans, in order to have some unadulterated thoughts on where Penn State is going. Currently 0-2, one terrible game that probably turned on just one play, and another game, dominated by the good guys for almost all that I saw, but still no wins to show for it.

My perspective may be slightly off, since I missed most of the fourth quarter due to having to go to a wedding.  I was thus forced to rely on text messages from my dad to track the fourth quarter.  Incidentally, receiving a text message that your team is lining up for a game winning field goal- after being disastrous all game in the kicking game- does not exactly make you feel all warm and fuzzy. When the inevitable text conveyed that the kick was missed came in, you don’t react. You shrug and try to get on with the day. Being at a wedding allows you to avoid TV’s until you’re too intoxicated (not quite the same warm and fuzzy feeling we wished we had early, but it works in pinch) to really watch highlights. So I also have to see the final plays, neither the drive by Virginia to win the game, nor the missed kick that drove the nail in the coffin.  Now let’s focus more on the panic.

I apologize in advance for perhaps stealing the Sports Guy’s shtick, but I am fully jumping all over the panic button. My team is 0-2, and what could be worse than a quirky offense coming in to Happy Valley looking to get their first win? Again, the Lions will be favored, but there is definitely a possibility of a loss on Saturday.  Defending the option requires discipline and patience. It is exactly how Joe Paterno wanted his defenses to play when the option was in vogue so many years ago. Teams that run it now are taking advantage of the general impatience and attacking style of the modern defense- you know, what Ted Roof wants to do.  So if Navy comes in and controls the clock, and is the beneficiary of the same key mistakes that have plagued the Lions this year, Penn State could walk off the field 0-3 and facing a historically bad season. We have seen historically bad before- it is how Penn State entered the millennium. Generally called the dark ages- the period from 2000-2004 had very few bright spots.

So if we have been here before- why panic? Well, I’ll tell you (it’s why you’re here hopefully). When you are trying to keep together a recruiting class that features five star talent, when you are about to begin a time where there will be less scholarships to go around, going 0-3 to start the season is a great way to chase said talent away. It’s generally said that, basically, until 2019, Penn State will have a lot less depth than the teams they will be competing against. With only 15 scholarships to go around each year, BOB is going to need the very best in talent to come play football in Happy Valley, knowing that they can start almost immediately to punch tickets to the NFL.  I feel the first class, the 2013 recruiting class, is the key. Currently, it has verbal commits from some very talented individuals. An 0-3 start, one that has featured a five star QB being moved to tight end, would not be the way to inspire more five star talent to come play in Beaver Stadium over the next four years.

Panic is not about this year alone- it is about the very precarious nature which the future of Penn State football is in.  What doesn’t help to attract the recruits discussed above? Tweeting angry things at a kicker having an atrocious day- also may be seen as a turn off. It’s especially a turn off when said recruits feel compelled to offer encouragement to someone they view as a potential teammate.  So as Penn State fans have spent the past ten months showing some impressive resolve, and players showing the testicular fortitude often reserved for great men, some fans have chosen to be as ugly as possible.  For full disclosure- I may have offered his scholarship to someone else, they apparently will be in short supply in the future.  In my defense, I earned my money to go to college by going to Iraq and Afghanistan. I suggest that if the money for college is earned in a particular way, i.e. kicking field goals, I think actually accomplishing that would go a long way to actually earning what you are being paid to do. (Yeah, I said it, college players are paid)

It would be lazy of me to solely blame an inept kicking game for what is most alarming about Penn State’s start. We have hired an offensive coach- who has yet to produce much offense. A lot has been laid at Ted Roof’s feet so far- but we have all seen the Patriots produce points at a thirty point a game clip. We did not expect to have ONLY thirty points at this juncture.   I have heard BOB claim that he needs to call better plays- well why is that not happening? There are execution issues- mainly a lack of ability to catch the ball on third down, but it seems to be more of the same from Penn State’s offense. I constantly see McGloin holding the ball, waiting for receivers to finish routes. I fully expected the ball to be leaving McGloin’s hands very early and getting into our playmakers hands very quickly.  This doesn’t happen nearly often enough. I’m not the most learned of football minds- but that was exactly what Ohio did when they kicked our ass up and down the field in the second half of the first game. This is the first shot across the bow; the ball is in McGloin’s hands too long. Please get it out quickly- I can’t identify the “Wes Welker” of the offense.

Not to pile on (yeah right, I am all about piling on), but the defense has given up two second half leads in the first two games. Typically, such things are rumored not to have happened in the former regime. That’s an untrue statement actually- if you look at every gut wrenching loss you can remember in the past half-decade- it’s a come from behind victory for the opponent.  However, it is happening at a very rapid rate- as in 2 for 2. It would be nice if the defense held a lead, especially if it’s by multiple possessions.

So panic is forming somewhere- definitely on this blog- and will be spreading from section EJ on Saturday. The offense is not scoring, the defense is not preventing scores, and the special teams have been a dumpster fire. Aside from hanging the “Help Wanted” sign on the kicker position, this team needs to focus on execution.  We fans need to focus on not chewing off finger nails off, putting on a happy face, and pretend that Navy is the first game of season on Saturday.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Beginning (Again)

Finally, it’s game week. I don’t think I have looked forward to a game as much as look as I look forward to the Penn State game this Saturday. Apparently, Ohio (the Bobcats, not the Buckeyes) is a good team. Not exactly a traditional MAC-rifice. I really want to just talk about football. Most Penn State fans just want to talk about football. We can’t, not yet.
On Saturday, we (get used to this, I say we like I am a part of the team) have a new coach, new offensive system, a new defensive system, and a new outlook on college football. For three hours we want to watch a football game. We want it to seem familiar.  Yet it will all seem very foreign.

The players will be familiar. There will be Matt McGloin, a “moxie” filled Irishman, will line up at QB. For the first time in his career, I hope he knows that all the PSU community is behind him. I privately hope he brings back the Irish mouthpiece. I loved the stone faced look he had during the players’ response to the sanctions. I don’t know why- but I saw exactly what I wanted to see.
I also think Michael Mauti will be out to hit as hard as possible- if only to release the frustrations that have been evident in his voice since the sanctions came down.  I think I understand where the frustration comes from. I hope it’s not from the actual need for the NCAA, but rather the environment that was created in the wake of the sanctions. I see a leader of a team trying his best to hold the pieces together.

Please do not misunderstand me. A lot of people have told me that the punishment by the NCAA is too harsh. It isn’t. A punishment had to be handed down. The NCAA had to do something. The day the sanctions were announced, I wrote the following on my Facebook wall:
Sometimes there are no words, no clever quotes to neatly sum up what's happened that day.
That jumped to mind when from a Criminal Minds episode- to ensure that credit is passed on to where due- and that it isn't my own original thought.

I have grown up as a Penn State fan- most people already know that. Today, and the future, I will still be a Penn State fan, I think. When you profess to do be doing things the right way, better than your peers, to be the incubation of some Grand Experiment, you don't hide behind "what is humane". This is not about who may have known what when, or what was done in some context of the law. Why hide behind these technical aspects to protect the moral slackness of supposedly great men?

 And maybe supposedly isn’t the right word- I hope I am never faced with a situation where someone I am close to or responsible for is a degenerate.
There are a bunch of tough words people have used, and blanket statements of what they would have done, and I can't make those. I think today's punishments are deserved. Just as coaches and presidents are responsible and credited with wins on the field that players earned, the players pay the price as well for their mistakes. No one is an island. Today everyone associated with Penn State is (faced with) punishment for the mistakes of few. It is deserved, we deserve it.

 There will be a football game at Beaver Stadium this fall. I think I will be there. I'll no longer think that we are doing better or cleaner than anyone else. It's just another game on another Saturday I am spending with my friends and family. WE ARE... because they were not.
I guess the only part I don’t want to stand by is how I wavered in thinking I would be still be a fan come Saturday.[1] Yet, the rest is true. To take it a step further, everyone wants to wash their hands of the responsibility; they want to say they weren’t at fault. They want their football team back. There are many groups still attempting to call foul. Every single time, I hear the same thing. I hear that the Freeh report was not valid. Who cares? Former football coach Jerry Sandusky operated at Penn State while molesting children. What part of that isn’t true? That sentence alone is enough to warrant the sanctions handed down. Stop whining and move on.

We are now operating in a known environment. Yes, players may transfer.  Yes, wins have been vacated. Yes, there is a post season ban and reduced scholarships. I am a fan of the football team at Penn State. I am also a fan of the University and all the good it does. The way forward can’t begin as long as groups continue to want to go backwards and not claim to be responsible.

For at least one group, the way forward has already begun. For the football team, it began when they showed up for camp. On Saturday, we can show up and support that group as best we can. They are the ones leading the way, while others tilt at windmills attempting to restore a tarnished legacy.  If they really want to say that we can do it cleaner and better than other schools, then on Saturday, we begin again.

In science the focus often not on the experiments that are successful, but rather the focus is directed to the ones that have failed. The grand experiment failed, and we must begin it anew.  


[1] I was afraid I would be rooting for a post death penalty SMU team, in which case I would not be watching college football on Saturdays. I would have been a college football widower.