Friday, September 14, 2018

Let's Go, Colorado

Picture yourself in 1991. I was an eight year old kid who loved baseball and riding my bike. When I wasn't doing one of those activities, I was playing on our swing set, bouncing on the neighbors trampoline, or climbing the huge boulder that had been placed in the front yard of our Savage, Minnesota home. That is, I did those activities around our Savage, Minnesota home until my family uprooted from our suburban Twin Cities abode for a new adventure out west. My dad's company transferred him to work on their largest project at the time - the construction of a new airport in Denver, Colorado. After the completion of my second grade year at St. John the Baptist Catholic School, the moving trucks came and loaded the house. We piled into the wood-sided Oldsmobile station wagon, hooked up the pop-up camper, and headed out to a new apartment in a new state while our new house was constructed in a new town by a new school where I would make new friends and start my new Colorado life.
Courtesy of Entertainment Weekly
The year 1991 was also big for the entire state of Colorado and not just because of the increased number of Flicks residing within its boundaries. It was during that year that the State last changed funding sources for transportation - through an increase in the state gas tax from $0.20 per gallon to $0.22 per gallon. The following year, Colorado implemented the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (or TABOR), prohibiting any tax increase without public vote.

In the twenty-seven years following the two cent increase in gas tax, Colorado has not added a funding stream for transportation in the state. In that same period of time, population in the state has nearly doubled (census data shows a population of nearly 3.3 million in 1990 compared to nearly 5.7 million in 2017). Average fuel economy has seen drastic growth in the last decade. Electric and hybrid vehicles add vehicle miles traveled to our roadway networks with little to no financial input to the system. Add in the lack of adjustments to the gas tax to keep up with inflation and we are seeing more vehicles driving more miles with less capital to improve the infrastructure at the same rate.

The result is the mess that we get the pleasure of experiencing on a daily basis. Poorly maintained roadway surfaces. Bumper-to-bumper traffic. A system of highway bridges with failing ratings. Incomplete transit systems. Transportation in this state is struggling.

This November, Colorado voters will have two separate (and different) ways to fix the transportation issues we face in our beautiful state. And I have a very strong opinion about which option is better.

Proposition 109 - Fix Our Damn Roads

The first is Proposition 109, which reallocates money from the general fund to pay for $3.5 billion in transportation infrastructure. One hundred percent of the funds would be applied to state highways. The funds would not be available for transit or local agencies. The proposition replaces $1.5 billion in existing state funding for CDOT so the $3.5 billion "increase" actually amounts to a $2 billion increase in state transportation funding. And this is not a new funding source. It is taking money from the general fund to pay for transportation, thus diverting funds from the state budget over the next 20 years to pay back the bonds. This proposition is a shell game - moving money from one pile to another. While it will help the transportation industry in the state, other facets of the state government will suffer as a result.

Proposition 110 - Let's Go, Colorado

The second transportation initiative on the ballot is Proposition 110. Proposition 110 is a 0.62% increase in sales tax for the entire state. The sales tax would sunset in 20 years. Unlike Proposition 109, the funds generated from this tax would be distributed to agencies around the state for diverse transportation infrastructure improvements. The allocation of dollars will be as follows:
Courtesy of CommutingSolutions.org
The sales tax is estimated to raise an additional $7 billion for highway projects around the state, while maintaining the $1.5 billion currently budgeted from the general fund. An additional $8 billion would be raised for city and county transportation projects and an additional $3 billion would be raised for transit/bicycle/pedestrian projects. In the first year alone, the state anticipates a $787 million increase in transportation funding statewide.

If my biased typing did not come through clearly enough - Proposition 110 is the better option for Colorado's transportation system. Proposition 110 will provide aid to a deteriorating and vital piece of our state - the transportation system that allows the movement of people and goods. The benefit of Proposition 110 (over Proposition 109) is not WHAT the money is doing, but HOW the money is raised.
  • The proposition introduces a new funding source and does not siphon money from away from other parts of the state budget. 
  • The new funding source is a sales tax. 
    • Meaning the tax will be skewed toward those who purchase more things.
      • Meaning it will generally have a greater impact to people with higher incomes.
  • The sales tax will gather money from the tourists who visit our state each year. The Colorado Tourism Office reported that over 86 million people visited our fine state in 2017. Each of those visitors add strain to the already tired infrastructure system. The money spent by those 86 million extra people as they visit Colorado will help offset the wear and tear that they place upon our infrastructure. 
  • The sales tax will collect from the users of the system who do not pay the $0.22 per gallon gas tax due to driving an electric car and from the users of the system who pay reduced gas tax on their fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles. 
I would encourage those of you who reside in Colorado to take a good look at what these propositions do for our great state. Find information about Proposition 110 at their website. Hopefully you agree that a change is needed and you join me in voting for Proposition 110. 

Colorado looks nothing like it did in 1991. It is time for our transportation funding to be able to say the same thing. 
Courtesy of ColoradoPolitics.com

Monday, August 20, 2018

You Play To Win The Game

UPDATE: In an effort to hold myself accountable to these predictions, the weekly results (however ugly they are) will be tracked in both spreadsheets with weekly recaps at the tail end of the post. Let's go Rams!

-------------------

College football IS LESS THAN A WEEK AWAY, so it seemed appropriate to provide my loyal readers (hi, Mom) my predictions for the upcoming 2018 Colorado State Ram football season.

WeekOpponentPredictionResultFlick's Picks
0HawaiiWUH 43 - CSU 340-1
1at Colorado (Denver)WCU 45 - CSU 130-2
2ArkansasWCSU 34 - ARK 271-2
3at FloridaWUF 48 - CSU 101-3
4Illinois StateW
5BYE--
6at San Jose StateW
7New MexicoW
8at Boise StateW
9WyomingW
10BYE--
11at NevadaW
12Utah StateW
13at Air ForceW
MWC ChampionshipW
National Championship Semifinal (Opponent TBD)W
National Championship (Opponent TBD)W

Recap: 
15-0
2018 MWC Mountain Division Champion
2018 MWC Champion
2018 National Champion

Courtesy of CSURams.com Ram Vision
Not what you are expecting? While I am 93% certain that my prediction above will not come to fruition, I head into this season with the words of Herm Edwards on my brain - you play to win the game.

Courtesy of The Denver Channel
This Ram season is setting itself up to be one of the most intriguing seasons in recent history. We are in season four of the Mike Bobo regime with the preceding three seasons all ending with records of 7-6, a bowl game loss, and an overall 2-7 record against our three primary rivals (CU, Wyo, AFA). The McElwain recruits are mostly gone - this is now a Mike Bobo recruited team. During his time in Fort Collins, Bobo has yet to push CSU to the top of the Mountain West - a feat that looked so achievable last year until late game collapses undermined that goal. With his recruiting classes in place and three straight winning seasons in his back pocket, Bobo looks to make that next step in 2018. Bobo's next attempt at making that leap was greeted with several challenges in the off-season - most importantly, taking care of his own health. Bobo's health issues have led to him spending the week preceding the first game of the year in a Denver-area hospital undergoing testing for numbness in his legs. My personal interactions with Coach Bobo have been incredibly positive as he is an engaging and hospitable man and a great representative of my university. I wish him all the best as they try to figure out his diagnosis. A missing head coach is one of the many challenges that the Rams face as they enter this new season.

Courtesy of Coloradoan.com
Last year's Ram squad that was so incredibly close to taking that next step will have a massive overhaul on the starting lineup. Per the Coloradoan, CSU will have the least experienced starting roster in college football this year. Only eight starters return in 2018 to lead the Rams into one of the toughest non-conference schedule they have seen in a long while. Three of the four are Power 5 schools. Two are from the SEC. Their leading returning receiver has a total of 71 catches in his career. The Rams lost their starting quarterback (Nick Stevens), a 3rd round NFL draft pick (Michael Gallup), arguably their three best offensive linemen (Jake Bennett, Zack Golditch, Trae Moxley), their explosive starting running back (Dalyn Dawkins), their offensive coordinator (Will Friend), their defensive coordinator (Marty English), and Comatose (just for the summer). In addition, their slated starting quarterback (Collin Hill) tore his ACL playing basketball and may not be back until later in the season (although he is reportedly way ahead of schedule). 

To shore up his coaching staff, Bobo brought in Dave Johnson from the University of Ohio as offensive coordinator and tasked new defensive coordinator John Jancek with fixing a troubled defense. Bobo has a prior history with both new coordinators having worked with them at Georgia. This familiarity should help smooth the transition between coaching staffs and provide some continuity for his young squad. The Rams lost multiple games last year due to inability to close out games on the defensive side of the ball, leading to the short retirement of defensive coordinator Marty English. The Rams fan base is hoping that his replacement, John Jancek, improves the players' understanding of their defensive assignments and (this is the tricky part) their ability to actually make a tackle. Most importantly, both new coaches are serious about football. So freaking serious.
Courtesy of CSURams.com
Courtesy of CSURams.com
While their starting lineup has been depleted, there is ample amounts of talent across the roster. This is especially true on the offensive side of the ball where the Rams have a talented and deep crew of skill position players: running backs Izzy Matthews, Rashaad Boddie, Marvin Kinsey, Marcus McElroy and receivers Bisi Johnson, Warren Jackson, and newly reinstated Preston Williams headline an impressive group of players who should become offensive forces in the Mountain West. The Rams also grabbed a graduate transfer quarterback from Washington in K.J. Carta-Samuels, who looks to be the starter entering the Week 0 game against Hawaii. Justice McCoy, a redshirt freshman out of Lousiana, has made a strong case to back up KJCS as the season starts.

Courtesy of colostate.edu
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams happily saw the return of Jamal Hicks from his season-ending arm injury last year - an injury that dramatically altered the identity of the defense after his departure. Jordan Fogal was granted a sixth year of eligibility in December. The linebacker corps of Josh Watson, Tre Thomas, and Max McDonald was a strength last year and should be improved in 2018. The emergence of Arjay Jean and Richard King on the defensive line last year give me hope that the defensive unit will show significant improvement under the tutelage of Jancek.

The schedule breaks down into three categories. The Rams have four games they HAVE to win (Hawaii, Illinois State, at San Jose State, Utah State). They have three games in which they will be significant underdogs (Arkansas, at Florida, at Boise State). The remaining five games should be competitive and could go either way (Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, at Nevada, Air Force). Three of those five coin-flip games are against rivalry opponents that Mike Bobo has struggled to defeat during his tenure in Fort Collins (what are trophies again?).

Assuming CSU takes care of business at home against Hawaii in Week 0 and Illinois State in Week 4, a win against either CU or Arkansas would set them up to be 3-2 coming out of their non-conference schedule. I would be happy at 3-2, ecstatic at 4-1, and uncontrollably emotional at 5-0. With either a 2-3 or 3-2 start, the Rams should still have the ability to reach 8 or 9 wins on the season.



For real this time, my 2018 CSU Rams football predictions:

WeekOpponentPredictionResultFlick's Picks
0HawaiiWUH 43 - CSU 340-1
1at Colorado (Denver)WCU 45 - CSU 130-2
2ArkansasLCSU 34 - ARK 270-3
3at FloridaLUF 48 - CSU 101-3
4Illinois StateW
5Bye--
6at San Jose StateW
7New MexicoW
8at Boise StateL
9WyomingW
10Bye--
11at NevadaL
12Utah StateW
13at Air ForceW

Final regular season record: 8-4

GAME ONE RECAP (Hawaii 43 - CSU 34): 

Ouch.

That game went nothing like anyone expected. Hawaii came to Fort Collins a heavy underdog with a spread somewhere in the 14 to 17 point range. Yet from the opening kickoff, their run-and-gun offense had no problems against our new-look John Jancek defense. Saturday's problems were a carbon copy of what plagued the defense last year - poor tackling and terrible gap control. In his post-game press conference, Bobo stated that the adjustments made during the game did little to change the effectiveness of the Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald. When CSU lined up five men in the box to defend against the pass, Hawaii was able to run through massive holes in the defense (including 96 yards and two TDs from McDonald). When CSU lined up 6 men in the box to stop the run, McDonald picked apart a secondary that had been highly touted this past offseason. The secondary had no help from the defensive front, who barely stepped foot in the backfield with little to no pressure on the quarterback most of the game.

By the time the Rams realized what was going on, the game was out of hand. This early and large deficit created an opportunity for KJ Carta-Samuels and the offense to show the Ram faithful what they could bring to the table. And boy, did we get a glimpse of what this offense could do. Outside of some breakdowns in pass protection with a still-gelling offensive line and a few missed open receivers, the offense put together a solid effort that excited me for the rest of the season. The clean routes of Bisi Johnson combined with the freakish size, strength, and athleticism of the Warren Jackson/Preston Williams duo provides some optimism out of a tough afternoon. Williams in particular showed why he was highly recruited out of high school, making difficult catches look easy, running away from defenders at times, and running over them if needed. Between the receiving corps, Griffin Hammer (who had an impressive catch and run through several defensive players), Cameron Butler (who left the game with a leg injury in the second half), and the backfield of Izzy Matthews and Marcus McElroy, the CSU offense looked capable of putting points on any defense they will face this year. Carta-Samuels set a CSU record for passing yards in a game with 537 yards and 5 touchdowns. Williams and Johnson each caught two of his touchdown passes in addition to their 188 and 157 yards receiving.

This match-up was one of three games I identified as "must win" for the Rams to improve upon their previous three 7-6 seasons. While the defensive effort worries me considerably about getting to the 7 to 9 win mark, there is still hope that the defense improves as the inexperienced squad begins to figure things out. If not, this could be a long, long season...

GAME TWO RECAP (CU 45 - CSU 13): 

So...

It has taken me a while to put words to the emotions from Friday night. While the Hawaii loss was still a loss, I left that game with a sense of hope for the season. The team did not quit and turned a first half blowout into a one-score game in the second half. I was hoping the humbling nature of a conference loss at home would send the team down a path of renewed vigor and effort. My optimism died sometime during the first quarter of game number two.

As the Rams won the coin flip, Robert stated what we all were thinking: "Take the ball. I don't want to see the defense give away the lead right away." Instead, CSU deferred and CU marched down the field with a 5 play, 75 yard touchdown drive to take the early 7-0 lead. The source of my hope then trotted out onto the field, proceeded to run the ball four times, throw one pass, take a sack, then punt the ball away. One minute and thirty-seven seconds later, CU scored another touchdown to go up 14-0. The Rams responded with a solid drive capped by a Bisi Johnson touchdown from KJ Carta-Samuels to bring the game back to a touchdown deficit. And then the wheels came off. 21-7. 28-7. 28-10. Half time. 35-10. 42-10. 45-10. 45-13. Ballgame. Walk of shame. Gatorade of shame. Drive home of shame. Sleep of shame. Morning of shame. Weekend of shame. Tuesday morning at work of shame.

This defense is lost. Defensive ends get too far up-field, opening gargantuan running lanes in the middle of our defensive front. The secondary cannot cover anyone with speed. The entire defense takes bad lines to the ball carrier, opening up the field for the offense. When they do get a helmet on the ball carrier, they miss tackles. It is not good. Some might say bad. While I cannot verify this information (do not look it up), I do not feel that Stephen Montez completed one pass more than 10 yards downfield. Everything was underneath: either a short screen or a running back out of the backfield. Montez was inaccurate throwing downfield (his interception came on one of those plays), but he had no reason to force the issue. The Buffs were cranking out 15+ yard plays by just dinking and dunking down the field and, like Hawaii's shovel pass from a week before, the Rams could do nothing to stop it. Incredibly frustrating to watch.

What made things worse was the ineptitude of the offense. The play calling tried desperately to establish the run, despite having a severe disadvantage in the trenches, talent at the wide receiver position, an inexperienced CU secondary, and an early and deep hole to climb out of (thanks, defense). At multiple points during the game, CU was playing their safeties to the inside of the field and only 10 to 15 yards off the line of scrimmage. Their cornerbacks were in press coverage, only to drop back before the snap. CSU had man-to-man single coverage on the outside with 6'-6" receivers against a 5'-10" cornerback and the offense did not adjust accordingly. It was during those moments that I realized how great it was having Nick Stevens on this team last year. While his arm was not the best, he quickly recognized those mismatches and put the offense in a position where they could be successful. That chemistry and unspoken understanding that we experienced with Stevens and Michael Gallup is not there with KJCS and his receivers. Is this breakdown due a lack of playing time between KJCS and his receivers? Will it improve when Collin Hill returns to the starting lineup (he did make a short appearance in the second half)?

The main target of my anger on Friday was not directed at the offense or the defense. Nor was it directed toward the special teams. It was the sign guy on the sidelines. Sign guy is a big bearded fellow who holds up a sign with the potential next play on it. For example, if the CSU offense was on the field and it was 3rd and 6, sign guy would run over to his stack of stupid signs and hold up "PUNT". These guys have been playing football for years. They have the athletic ability and game understanding to play at a Division I level program (please hold the CSU/Division I jokes... too early). If they do not know that there is a chance that the play immediately following a 3rd and long situation could be a punt, they should not be on the team. Plus, CSU is 0-2 in the Sign Guy EraTM.

Sign guy, the bad play calling, and the horrible defense all need to take the rest of the season off; especially considering we have two straight contests against SEC teams. God help us all...

GAME THREE RECAP (CSU 34 - Arkansas 27): 

Woo pig sooie!!

Imagine watching the Hawaii game at Canvas Stadium. Then imagine watching the Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium. Then imagine wandering into Canvas Stadium to watch that same team take on the SEC contingent from Fayetteville. Then imagine sitting in the stands at halftime having each scored three times (three FG for CSU, two FG and a TD for Arkansas). Then imagine watching the Razorbacks go up 18 points in the third quarter. Then IMAGINE SCORING TWENTY FIVE UNANSWERED POINTS TO TAKE THE LEAD WITH A IZZY MATTHEWS TOUCHDOWN WITH EIGHT SECONDS LEFT IN THE GAME. Then imagine not having a voice the next day.

I can imagine.

The Rams entered the contest as 14 point underdogs; a team struggling to find itself (or do anything) defensively. Yet the first drive of the Razorbacks resulted in a Jordan Fogal interception only three plays into the game. The Rams would score a field goal to take an early lead. After a few swapped punts, the Razorbacks appeared to turn on their switch. The big uglies with the metallic red lids realized that they were from the SEC and they were bigger and stronger than the men across the line. They marched down the field with a run-heavy approach, getting yards in giant clips on the ground. But CSU's defense did not break. On a 3rd and 6 play from CSU's 32 yard line, the Rams defense allowed a one yard gain setting up a field goal attempt. The kick went wide, but an offside penalty kept the drive alive. Four straight running plays later, the Razorbacks were in the end zone, the lead was gone, and the game was over.

When the cannon fired at halftime, my buddy Jason joked that we were basically tied because we had each scored three times so it was a push. The Rams were down four, but it was the offense that had been the problem. The running game was non-existent. At the half, the Rams had a yard rushing. One. A single yard. The Arkansas defensive front was getting an excellent push and the play calling was not helping at all. Draw plays do not work when the defensive line gets to the quarterback as he is handing the ball off. Sweep plays do not work when the linebackers get to the edge before the running back does. The Arkansas defense was so good with their backside protection. The Rams would run right, find no holes, and cut back into the arms of a defender. The lack of a run game was putting the offense in third and long situations and those drives were stalling out. The best part of a failing offense was that we got to watch Ryan Stonehouse punt. Stonehouse and his exquisite lettuce punted five times with an average of 56.8 yards per punt and a long punt of 70(!) yards. Like his mane, his punting was magnificent.

Despite how much the offense tried to let the Razorbacks slip away, the Rams were still in the game at halftime because the previously porous Ram defense had played well - including getting two interceptions. Unfortunately, the offense had only been able to produce six points on the resulting possessions. And while the Razorbacks flexed their muscles in the running game, the Ram defense maintained their assignments in the second level and the tackled far better than the first two games of the season. Arkansas was dominating up front, but they were not getting the explosive plays that had doomed the Rams all season. It was refreshing to see that the results were finally matching the efforts on the defensive side of the ball.

The third quarter began and it appeared that Arkansas was done messing around. They pounded the rock and built up a comfortable 18 point lead. Canvas Stadium started emptying out.

With five and half minutes left in the third quarter, the Rams offense stepped on the field after an Arkansas missed field goal. The attempts at getting a running game started were over. The game was now in the hands of KJ Carta-Samuels, Preston Williams, Cameron Butler, and Bisi Johnson. And they took over the game. Touchdown - Preston God Williams. Arkansas punt. Touchdown - Preston God Williams. Arkansas punt. Field goal - Wyatt Bryan. Tie ballgame. 5:19 remaining. Despite the jabroni idiots who left early, Canvas Stadium was LOUD. But the defense needed a stop. A quick ten yard play on first down looked ominous. Then a four yard run. Then a two yard run. Then on third and four, Emmanuel Jones beat his opponent and sacked Cole Kelley for a 12 yard loss. The Rams were getting the ball back for one last chance.

A quick pass to Marvin Kinsey netted five yards. Then Carta-Samuels found Preston God Williams up the middle for a twenty-five yard gain. The Rams were in field goal range, but there was still too much time on the clock. Marvin Kinsey gained a yard on the ground before an Arkansas timeout. Carta-Samuels found Williams again for a 13 yard gain and another first down at the 15 yard line. Then to completely destroy the narrative established in the first 7/8 of the game, Izzy Matthews busted out a 14 yard run to get a first down at the one yard line. One play later, this happened:
 What a statement win from a program on the brink. What a testament to the people in the locker room and the coaching offices for continuing to exert maximum effort in order to correct the trajectory of the program. What a challenge to turn this victory into momentum heading into Gainsville next week. As always, I am proud to be a CSU Ram.

GAME FOUR RECAP (Florida 48 - CSU 10): 

I am happy to report that the CSU Rams concluded their SEC portion of their schedule with a solid 1-1 record. I am convinced that no one would have complained about that before the season, but Saturday's game felt like a wasted opportunity. Fresh off the come-from-behind win against the Fayetteville Piggies, CSU was primed for a competitive showing in the Swamp of Gainsville. AND THE DEFENSE SHOWED UP!! But the running game did not. And special teams just pooped down their leg the whole game. Let's talk about the special teams.

  • Fumbled snap on a punt - recovered by Florida
  • Missed 41 yard field goal
  • Missed 53 yard field goal
  • Blocked punt recovered in the end zone by Florida for a touchdown
  • [Takes a deep, deep breath]
  • [That was just the first half]
  • Punt return 85 yards for a Florida touchdown
Add in the two additional fumbles and the entire game consisted of CSU putting Florida in a position to win the game. 

CSU was never expected to win that game. I did not expect them to win that game. But what transpired this past weekend was an embarrassment of mistakes against a bigger, stronger, faster opponent. This tweet from Matt Stephens was particularly telling: 


You are not going to win many games with that formula.

But I am a positive guy. Where's the positive? Well, the Rams head into the final non-conference game with a 1-3 record. Should they take care of business against the Redbirds, they will finish non-conference play with a 2-3 record and a slate of winnable conference games ahead of them. Plus no P5 defensive lines that will destroy all semblance of a running game. Seven regular season wins is still achievable. Keep the faith. Go Rams. And despite the loss, the Rams looked GOOOOOOOD. #WhiteOnWhiteWithWhiteBoneHelmets

Friday, June 08, 2018

Sonny Lubick Field at...

This week, the company formerly known as Public Service Credit Union finalized and released their brand update. Normally a release of this nature would not register in my world, but my interest was piqued because of the April announcement of the stadium naming rights partnership between PSCU and Colorado State University. The new brand name and logo would adorn MY beautiful new on-campus stadium for the next 15 years and I wanted to avoid stupid names like Guaranteed Rate Field or WisePies Arena or KFC Yum! Center or Nickelback. (My original wish was that Otterbox, a Fort Collins company started by a CSU grad, was going to pay for the naming rights and name it Sonny Lubick Field at the Otterbox. Alas, it shall only be called that in my mind...)

When the announcement came, Multi-Use Stadium became Canvas Stadium - sponsored by the new look Canvas Credit Union. The logo is a conglomeration of circumflexes that spell out "Canvas" and appear to jaggedly point to the left in a Aggie orange color.
Courtesy of COBiz.com
The name is fine (it's no Otterbox). The logo and colors are fine. But to those of us lucky enough to reside in Colorado know that the official name of the stadium is just a suggestion. Coors Field is #Coors or #LOLCoors. Pepsi Center is "The Can". Invesco Field Sports Authority Field Nameless Broncos stadium is usually just Mile High. Dick's Sporting Goods Park is "The Richard". So what to call this freshly minted northern Colorado beauty? The easy answer won't work because "The Can" will always refer to the Pepsi Center. Here are some random and terrible ideas that I had:
- The Bob Ross
- Happy Little Stadium
- The Circumflex
- The Caret
- The Chevron
- The Chuck Taylor
- The Chuck
- The Otterbox (I can't quit you!)

Jenny Cavnar has a suggestion that sounds fun but may lack the desired machismo required for NCAA football: 


In the grand scheme of things, Canvas Stadium works well. The stadium name is unique in the sports world, it is not terrible, and it is backed by 37,700,000 reasons to like it. Regardless of the name on the stadium, I will be in my seat in the Canvas with a cocktail this fall and the fall after that and the fall after that and the fall after that...

Go Rams.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Double Digits

Despite the details remaining a bit fuzzy (umm... because of the heat... yeah, the heat...), the gravity of what transpired on that fateful Labor Day weekend cannot be ignored. The annual Rocky Mountain Showdown was upon us, my buddies and I had been tailgating, our chests were painted, and we were yelling and cheering from our seats. I happened to be sitting at the east edge of the south stands of INVESCO Field Sports Authority Field Mile High Stadium, overlooking a concession stand packed with hungry students looking for a hot dog. As I was perusing the crowd from above, I saw Adam - a buddy of mine from high school who was a Resident Assistant during that current school year. Standing next to him was this drop-dead gorgeous lady that I had never seen but immediately needed to meet. After some wild gesticulations and loud noises (my specialties), Adam saw me hanging over the ledge and we somehow agreed, through choppy hand gestures, to meet at the bottom of my section after they got their food. As I made my way to the bottom of the section, I fought through the crowd and found Adam - where he casually introduced me to the love of my life.

That story is fifteen years old. Fifteen years since I randomly scanned a concession stand line and my life took a sharp turn to a completely new trajectory.

It started as most college relationships do - two broke kids scraping enough change together to grab a bite to eat. It quickly moved to more serious business - dates in the library where one of us would study and the other would eat sunflower seeds and wander through the section with the over-sized photography books. I will let you figure out who was who. It was during these late nights in the library where our different approaches to our education provided a glimpse of how two individuals could and should meld together. She was focused, dedicated, tenacious, and serious about her studies. I was relaxed, scatter-brained, doing just enough to succeed, and full of stupid jokes. My levity interrupted her (what I considered to be excessive) study sessions and her dedication to those nightly library visits forced me to actually focus on the reason why I was in college in the first place. Looking back now, those hours spent together across the table from each other are a perfect snapshot of our lives together. Sarah provides the stability, the structure, the smarts, the drive. I stare across the table at the gorgeous woman that will actually talk to me with a stupid look on my face. As individuals, we each succeed in our own fashion; we approach life's problems with different viewpoints and from differing angles. But as a couple, we combine our strengths to form an amazing partnership that flattens the valleys and raises the peaks.

After three and a half years of growing together, I decided enough was enough and I took her back to where Adam inadvertently changed our lives. She said yes. I finally breathed.


A year and a half later, I stood at the front of the church waiting for the doors to open. They opened. She was actually there. I finally breathed yet again.


That story is ten years old today. Ten years since the bombshell from the concession line decided that she would tolerate me for the rest of time. Ten years of her mere presence making me a better person. Ten years of sharing my life with my favorite person in the world. Thank you, Sarah, for being my wife for the last ten years.

I love you.
Courtesy of Brookie T Photography

Friday, February 17, 2017

Final Countdown

Recently Twinkie Town - the SBNation blog on the Minnesota Twins - posted two articles concerning a top-to-bottom ranking of MLB teams. Their main criteria was "Don't rank your top three teams and then say the rest are all tiedI want to see you rank all 30 teams, and explain why you ranked them like you did."  Their second post compiled all of their reader input into a comprehensive ranking of teams from favorite to least favorite. This exercise excited me for several reasons: I wanted up to start talking baseball again, I wanted to start talking baseball again, spring training is right around the corner, and I wanted to start talking baseball again. #Baseball Even though my first objective was to talk about baseball again, a major reason that this was exciting was that there is no cop-out. You can't just lump a group of teams together and say that they have no discernible difference in your personal feelings. There must be a reason that one team is #20 and the next is #21. Being judgmental is REQUIRED! 

[Between the posting of the rankings on Twinkie Town and the publishing of my list, the folks over at Purple Row did the same thing. The Colorado-centric rankings can be found here.]


So here is my take on all 30 teams with the rationale behind each ranking. It is a long post so buckle up, enjoy the list, and let's argue in the comments. 

Courtesy of New York Times
Pond Scum
30. St. Louis Cardinals - A few years ago, this spot could easily have been taken by the Red Sox (insufferable winners), Yankees (pompous winners), or Cubs (fanatical, excuse-laden perpetual losers). At this point, however, the Massholes have calmed down their obnoxious World Series drought schtick (at least in Colorado), the Yankees have not been relevant for a while, and the Cubs hired a manager that I greatly admire and amassed a roster that I cannot dislike (despite my valiant attempts). Through their tiresome "Best Fans in Baseball" mantra, their insistence in their successes being a result of the "Cardinal Way," their overzealous love of a Molina, and their obnoxious overvaluing of utility role players, the St. Louis Cardinals have shouldered their way into the position of my least favorite team. If you think my claims are off-base, head over to @BestFansStLouis and you will understand my hatred completely. 

29. San Francisco Giants - Being a consistently competitive division rival of the Rockies should be enough to place the Giants at the bottom of this list. Employing perma-jerks like Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent should also place them here. But that is not the major reason why the Giants are mired in my dislike. No, they are here because any poor performance against the Rockies is accompanied by an excuse. The base runners are tipping pitches. A organization employee in the outfield is stealing signs. And the worst of the excuses - the Rockies are swapping out juiced, dry, humidor-free balls when the Giants take the field at Coors. To this day, I have been unable to figure out how the Rockies could have actually executed this plan. The Rockies would have duped the MLB staff monitoring the humidor, successfully swapped out balls at the right time, and correctly predicted how many balls would be wasted each half inning to only take the juiced balls to the mound in the bottom of the inning. Also, they could not take too many juiced balls to the home plate umpire because if the inning ended then the Giants would get some of the juiced balls in the top half of the next inning. To any reasonably intelligent person, the past few sentences are ridiculous. The Giants are apparently neither reasonable or intelligent. 


Courtesy of CBS Boston
28. Boston Red Sox - Insufferable Massholes. Jonathan Papelbon. David Ortiz's resurgence once he left the Twins. The 2007 World Series. The insufferable loser mentality that immediately changed to a pompous, boastful, and arrogant fan base the instant the 2004 World Series ended. This team and their fans clearly belong in the bottom third. 

27. New York Yankees - Years of mediocre baseball have softened the repugnance surrounding the blue pinstripes, but not enough to pull them out of the dredges of this bottom group. Plus Joe Girardi wants to ban the shift, which is asinine. Isn't every defensive play a shift to some extent? If you anticipate a bunt, the third baseman moves in. Runner on first with less than two outs? Double play depth. Small lead late in the game? Outfields adjust their position based on the batter to prevent extra base hits. The idea by itself is so stupid that it deserves a Pond Scum category nomination, much less the fact that it came from the Evil Empire. 


Courtesy of ChicagoCubs.com
26. Chicago Cubs - Over the last several years, the Cubs have desperately tried to win my favor. They hired a man who I hoped would become the Rockies manager (Joe Maddon). They signed one of my all-time favorite personalities to come through the Rockies organization (Dexter Fowler). And their resident kid genius (Theo Epstein) put together a roster of immensely talented and likable players (Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Fowler). But I continue to resist - their fans are loud and proud at Coors when the Cubbies roll into town and it drives me nuts. I understand that prior to the creation of the Rockies, the only baseball to watch was WGN (Cubs) or TBS (Braves) so there are bound to be plentiful amounts of Cubs fans in the area. But the fact that we are 20+ years into the Rockies existence and the local supporters cannot suppress the onslaught of Chicago fans is tough to swallow. It might be this way in other MLB cities as well, but it still irks me. Maddon, Fowler, and crew might have overcome the annoying fans, but there is still the lingering issue with the ball club tat started in the eighth inning of game six of the 2003 NLCS. You know the game. Bartman. The Cubs held a 3-2 series lead and a 3-0 score advantage in the game. With one out in the eighth, Luis Castillo fouled a ball down the line in left field. Steve Bartman tipped the ball away from the closing Moises Alou, taking away a potential out from the Cubs, and blasting his name into baseball history. Alou's reaction was ridiculous. He demonstratively lambasted Bartman and the fans at Wrigley Field followed suit. The situation got so bad that Bartman was escorted out of the stadium. The Cubs ended up losing the game EIGHT TO THREE. They had a three run lead with five outs to go and they gave up EIGHT RUNS. Should Bartman have backed away from the ball as it came toward him? Yes. Would 90% of the fans watching the game make the same mistake had they been in Bartman's seat? Hell yes, they would. When a baseball flies toward you, your natural instinct is to catch it. The response from Cubs fans that pinned that loss on Bartman was ridiculous and fit perfectly with the Cubs' longstanding scapegoating that has permeated through the organization.

25. Arizona Diamondbacks - I could probably just post a picture of their 2016 jerseys and their position on the list would make sense. Or I could post the original turquoise and purple ones. Instead, I'll post a video of Eric Byrnes grounding out to give the Rockies a berth in the 2007 World Series. I hate the Diamondbacks. 

24. Los Angeles Dodgers - Yankees West. Division rivals. Chase Utley. (Although I do love B-Mac and Kershaw)

Meh
23. Detroit Tigers - The Tigers are a division rival to my Twinkies. As a native of Minnesota, you tend to avoid anything related to the state of Michigan. 

22. Philadelphia Phillies - They paid Chase Utley a ton of money and he is a jerkwad. Plus, Philadelphia sports fans hate Santa Claus. 

21. Cincinnati Reds - As I compiled the teams for this list, I listed out the teams division by division. For some reason, I could not remember the fifth team in the NL Central and embarrassingly had to look it up. It was the Reds. While the Big Red Machine was a dynasty and Marge Schott was a crazy person, this team is not memorable at all. Therefore, they are relegated toward the bottom of the group of meh. 

20. Kansas City Royals - Another team that I do not have too much of feeling either way. Even though they are division rivals of the Twins, they had been so bad for so many years that they were completely irrelevant. The reason that they are ahead of the Reds? Their sweet powder blue jerseys. 
Courtesy of ESPN


19. Tampa Bay Rays - This team would have been higher a few years ago as they challenged the Red Sox and Yankees for the AL East title with Joe Maddon at the helm and Evan Longoria (Tulo's fellow LBSU Dirtbag) dominating the hot corner. But now Longoria has declined, Maddon has left, and all the familiar players like David Price, Ben Zobrist, and Carl Crawford are long gone. I cannot find a connection between me and this franchise. 

18. San Diego Padres - Talk about complete irrelevance. The Padres are just... there. Their most famous player, Tony Gwynn, was a hitting machine beloved by baseball fans, but his unassuming personality was overshadowed by the others of his time - Ripken, Canseco, McGwire, Bonds, Henderson, Clemens, Schmidt, Dawson, etc. The most notable things about this team are their ridiculous pitchers park and their camouflage jerseys.  

17. New York Mets - The Mets have a lot of things going in their favor. Their rotation is the one of the best in the league, they are the cross-town alternative to the Yankees, and they embraced old man Bartolo Colon. However, this team has historically had a couple successful seasons followed by brutal stretches of ineptitude. Plus, after the Rockies decided that wife-beating Jose Reyes was not worth the roster spot, the Mets happily picked him back up. Throwing people through sliding glass doors is not okay, dude. 

16. Atlanta Braves - A perennial powerhouse for my entire youth, the Braves should be way lower on this list. They were the foil to the 1991 Twins World Series victory, so I should not like them one bit. But my wife is a Colorado native and she was one of the few who spurned WGN baseball for TBS baseball. Her fandom has softened my feelings on the team, just not enough to get into the top half of the league. 


Courtesy of ESPN
15. Giancarlo Stanton - I do not like the Marlins. Their owner is the poster child of rich team owners scamming their loyal, local taxpayers. Their old ballpark was horrendous. Their new ballpark has whatever you call that thing in center field. Marlins barely jump into the top half of teams for one reason: Giancarlo Stanton. Anyone who tells you that they are not entertained by this man-giant is a liar. Stanton is the best power hitter in the game right now and watching him at the plate is a joy.

14. Los Angeles Angels - Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. But they once called themselves the Los Angeles California in Anaheim North of Mexico Close to the Pacific Ocean Angels. Super embarrassing for them. 

13. Seattle Mariners - Ken. Griffey. Junior. 
Courtesy of CBS Sports


12. Chicago White Sox - It might seem weird to see an AL Central team this far up the list. Their open dislike of the Twins should force them much further down the list. I may have a special spot for the Pale Hoes because they are the anti-Cubs, but the real reason for their position lies in a huge piece of my childhood - baseball cards. For some reason, I had a ton baseball cards depicting White Sox players, none more than Carlton Fisk. While I have touched on this before, baseball cards and a hand-me-down Black Sox hat that I wore all the time made Fisk one of my all time favorites. 

The Favorables
11. Cleveland Indians - Well lookie here... another AL Central team?! And one with a super racist logo? How dare you?!! As terrible as Chief Wahoo is and as much as a division rival should be hated, the Indians have one of the best social media accounts in all of sports. The work that their social media team does is just fantastic. In addition, the Indians remind me of Major League and that makes Jobu happy. 


Courtesy of Yahoo Sports
10. Houston Astros - A few years ago, the Astros spent most of their season fielding a team that was barely fit for AAA and I honestly could not have been more jealous of Astros fans. When Jeff Luhnow took over that position in 2011, he realized that this team was mired in mediocrity and needed an overhaul. He convinced his owners to obliterate their roster and build the deepest farm system in the league. In the age of instant gratification, this approach was uncommon. It required the team to be absolutely horrendous for a while while they traded off all of their older and valuable assets. And horrendous they were - they lost over 100 games for three straight years. The Astros' plan was exactly what I wanted from Dan O'Dowd and Bill Geivett and the Rockies. While the Astros were stumbling over themselves at the major league level, their minor league system was filling up with major league quality talent. Jose Altuve (all 4'-9" of him), Carlos Correa, and George Springer were central to this development process and now are the nucleus of a young and improving roster that will be a contender in the AL West for many years.

9. Washington Nationals - Contrary to the opinions of baseball purists, I love the swagger and chaotic game of Bryce Harper. I love how he will run through a wall to catch the ball in the outfield. I love his violent and powerful swing. I love his "Make Baseball Fun Again" hat. And let us be real here - a baseball purist is just an old cranky sourpuss that hates millenials, fun, and sabermetrics. Add in some of the other players on the Nationals' roster like Stephen Strasburg (a phenom that actually has translated into a quality starting pitcher), Max Scherzer (with his different color eyes), and Trae Turner (a 15 year old boy undercover as a professional baseball player) and you have a young, fun, and talented roster that slides into the top ten of my rankings. 
Courtesy of USA Today
8. Oakland Athletics - When March comes around and the CSU Rams are not in the NCAA basketball tournament, I spend the rest of my time cheering for the underdog. Underdog stories might be the easiest bandwagon to join and the Athletics are the baseball equivalent to this story. The organization's front office of Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta were at the forefront of baseball's statistical revolution, most famously depicted in Michael Lewis's Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. While Bill James and sabermetrics had been around the sport for a while, the A's use of this information in their front office completely changed the way that teams approached their roster decisions across the league. Advanced statistical analysis has trickled into every other sport and the nerd in me loves every second of this transformation.

7. Texas Rangers - The Rangers have been in existence since 1961 when they were the Washington Senators. They currently have as many World Series championships that I do. Zero. You would think that the futility of the organization would result in fans like the Cubs or Red Sox. But I have never met a Rangers fan that is a petulant whiner or excessive excuse maker. Plus the Rangers of late are fun. Adrian Beltre is a future Hall of Famer (just do not touch his head), Elvis Andrus makes ridiculous plays look routine, Rougned Odor landed the best punch in baseball fight history, and Prince Fielder just retired after a long stint in Arlington (I will chat about Prince later). I feel like every time I see Rangers highlights, you see shenanigans from Andrus and Beltre that are completely endearing.



6. Baltimore Orioles - When you are in the same division of the Red Sox and Yankees, you default to a favored team in my world. When your history includes the Iron Man, a legendary ballpark that now shares a name with my son, and a cool cartoon logo with a black-white-orange color scheme, you rise up even further. Just look at that lid on that man.

5. Toronto Blue Jays - When I was in college, the Lids store in the Foothills Mall was having a clearance sale. For $5, I picked up a Toronto Blue Jays cap as a tribute to the last bastion of Canadian hardball (RIP Montreal Expos). Like the Orioles, my love for the Blue Jays is an offset for my hatred of their rivals in Boston and New York. But the Blue Jays have Jose Batista (professional dinger smacker), Jason Grilli (former Rockie), Josh Donaldson (Bringer of Rain but not as good as Nolan), Melvin Upton Jr (my favorite Upton brother), and Troy Tulowitzki (still one of the greatest Rockies of all time). 


Courtesy of Whirl Magazine
4. Pittsburgh Pirates - The Pittsburgh Steelers can kick rocks. The Pittsburgh Penguins can pound sand. But there is something about the Pirates... Part of this ranking can be attributed to Clint Hurdle, who led the Rockies to the World Series before being fired and picking up the manager position in Pittsburgh. Some of this ranking can be attributed to PNC Park, which I have heard is absolutely stunning and rivals the beauty of Coors Field. As is the theme of most of this list - baseball is about the personalities. The Pirates can be included in that list as most of this ranking can be attributed to a guy that I long wished was playing for one of my favorite teams - Andrew McCutchen. Even as his impact has subsided the past few seasons, McCutchen plays the game with an infectious joy and I have loved the Cutch since his early years in the game. He is one of the few non-Twins and non-Rockies bobbleheads in my collection. 

Obviously
3. Milwaukee Brewers - When one of your parents was raised outside of Milwaukee (the Good Land) and the other is a native of St. Paul, you tend to get pulled multiple directions on the sports front. It is hard to explain to people that you do not hate the Packers OR Vikings. In baseball, it is way easier - the Twins are in the American League and the Brewers are in the National League. They are not natural rivals, unlike their collegiate and NFL affiliates. I grew up adoring baseball because of my mom's dad. He lived his entire life in Wisconsin and loved the Brewers. Therefore, I will always be a fan of the Brew Crew. 

One of the years that Sarah was in school in Arizona, I went down to visit her during Spring Training (convenient). It was early enough that games had not started but the whole roster had reported and they were practicing. Since Sarah had class that day, I took her car and rolled over to the Brewers' camp. I got there before any baseball activities had started and I was lingering in the parking lot when the players came out of their locker room to head to the fields. At this particular facility, the players had to walk across the parking lot to get from the building to the fields. Professional autograph seekers (meaning a bunch of creepy retired old guys) had lined the path between the two locations in an attempt to get some signatures on their binders of baseball cards. I saw which field the players were heading towards, so I started walking that direction. As I converged with the players walking across the parking lot, I looked to my left and saw Prince Fielder walking a couple feet from me. He looked at me, looked down at my hands and saw they they were without any pens or memorabilia, and gave me a big old smile. I chatted with this surprisingly short MLB superstar for a minute or two as we approached the practice fields. He was such a nice dude. As the players walked through the gate, I found a great spot to watch practice and then proceeded to call my grandparents to give them the report for the upcoming season. I remember my grandpa being so excited that I was watching his team and he quizzed me on what seemed like the entire roster on their progress. Memories of those baseball conversations with my grandpa solidified Milwaukee's position at the top of these rankings. Plus, their old logo is the best and needs to be returned in a full-time capacity. 
Courtesy of CBS Sports
Courtesy of  Otto Greule Jr.
2. Minnesota Twins - Outside of my family, the Twins are the first thing that I remember connecting with as a child. I loved playing baseball as a kid, I loved watching baseball as a kid, I loved collecting baseball cards as a kid. I loved the entire sport. I happened to pick a great time to develop into a fan of the team of my birth state. I was about to turn five when the Twins won their first World Series in 1987. I was almost nine and had just moved to Colorado when they won their second in 1991. Because I was so young, I do not have a great personal recollection of those games. But there are images and moments and people that I remember vividly. I remember Kirby. I remember Hrbek. I remember Gaetti (in fact, I still own a faded plastic cup with his image on it). I remember ten innings of Jack Morris. I remember Danny Gladden getting flipped at home plate. I remember my excitement when my godmother bought me a complete set of 1988 Fleers that were numbered by the standings of the previous year, meaning my Twins were the first cards out of the box. That box of cards is sitting in my closet at my house right now. 



Courtesy of Star Tribune
Naturally, the organic devotion of a young fan will always keep me connected to the Twins. Through the years (even in the bleak stretch in the 90s), they had players that I loved like Torii Hunter, Johan Santana, Michael Cuddyer, Brad Radke, Scrappy Nick Punto, Shane Mack, old man tall sock with stirrups Jim Thome, Justin Morneau, and (of course) Joe Mauer. So why aren't the Twins number one on the list? Distance. Before Twitter could update me on every pitch and I could buy my own MLB cable package that gave you every game of the season, I had to follow teams through the newspapers, local television channels, the radio, sports almanacs (if you do not know what this is, you are younger than me and therefore a baby), magazines, and sports year in review VHS tapes. Living in Colorado, the local television and radio channels only talked about the local team. The almanacs and videos only gave you a glimpse of what was happening. Following a team remotely now is easy. Following the day to day operations of a team back then was not. 

1. Colorado Rockies - When Colorado finally reaped the rewards of their efforts to get an expansion team in Denver, I was only a couple years removed from a Twins World Series victory, I had just recently moved with my family to Littleton, and I gladly accepted the insertion of local baseball back into my life. From the moment they began playing games in Mile High Stadium in 1993, I had the access to a baseball team that I no longer had with the Twins. My close proximity to the Rockies allowed me to forge a connection with the players, coaches, and ballpark. A connection that is strengthened each subsequent year.


Courtesy of Denver Post
For the past 20+ years, I have watched each transaction, scrutinized every signing, tried to catch Dan O'Dowd outside my parent's church, half jokingly applied for a job with Bill Geivett (dodged a bullet there), attended countless games at Coors Field, and have lived and breathed Colorado Rockies baseball. I will gladly talk to anyone about the lineup put together by the manager, the impact of the bench coach on a rookie's hitting slump, the importance of Igloo cups in the history of the franchise, the immediate impact coming from front office decisions, the high quality of the Coors Field grounds crew, the game stats of the promising minor league prospects, why Game 163 was the greatest I have ever seen in person, the late game pitcher management of the coaching staff, the pitch selection of the day's starter, the defensive inadequacies of the Blake Street Bombers, why Todd Helton belongs in the Hall of Fame, or the off-the-field activities of Denny Neagle. The emergence of and my immersion in social media has only made things worse. Not only is the Rockies twitter feed one of the best in sports, their minor league affiliates have fantastic feeds as well. Add in the local and national baseball reporters, the SB Nation folks at Purple Row, the awesome Purple Dinosaur Podcast, and the smattering of buddies that are die-hard fans and I can dig up more content about this team on my iPhone than I could have gathered in a month during middle school. 
Courtesy of Mile High Sports
So there you have it. The definitive ranking out of the brain of the guy who once pulled a stocking cap over his face and ran into a light pole in a Target parking lot (true story). Now it is your turn.