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Posts Tagged ‘Sports’

Beset by bills, dismayed over depressed savings and tense ahead of tax time, I turned my attention to the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual display of dogs. Some of it has to do with the fact that I love dogs; I’m fascinated by the ritual involved in judging best of breed and best in show and by not only the dogs but their owners, trainers and handlers.

There are any number of contests and competitions about dogs, ranging from the most professional to the really ridiculous.  At the top of the heap stands (sits? stays?) the Westminster show, two days of mind-boggling logistics , cramped quarters, endless grooming and very specialized judging at New York’s Madison Square Garden. This invitation-only competition has, thanks to savvy marketing, become quite the event and it’s where anyone involved in breeding dogs wants to show. The dogs are grouped according to the primary function for which they were originally bred (i.e. sporting group, working group). They are then judged within their breed as to how they conform to an ideal set of standards involving general appearance, movement, temperament, and specific physical traits. The best in show is presumably the dog that most closely matches the ideal.

Obviously much of this is subjective, albeit the judgments are made by people with keen eyes and years of training. In past competitions, popular sentiment (the roar of the crowd) hasn’t always conformed with the judges’ decision. But recently, audience hearts and judges’ minds were both won by scrappy little contenders, who were considered, well, underdogs going in. Last year, Uno, became the first beagle ever to win Best in Show, making doggy history and turning out to be just so doggone adorable. Uno made the rounds, appearing not just at high-falutin’ locales like the White House but also at children’s and veterans’ hospitals and at various schools; he even rode in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. This year, more dog history: Stump, the Sussex Spaniel, came out of retirement to become the oldest winning dog ever. At ten years old and even allowing for new calculations based on longer-living dogs, he’s well into middle age. Talk about inspirational!

Westminster winners of the past have been enviably gorgeous animals, elegant and almost inaccessible, the purebred we ogled while our lovable mutt napped next to us on the couch. Uno and Stump, also purebreds, nevertheless seem like regular dogs, an image reinforced by images of Uno happily wagging his tail and braying and reports that Stump likes to hang out in bed with his best friend JR.  It’s nice that in these troubled times, where anger over perks and bonuses and ill-gotten gains have ignited an unpleasant kind of class warfare, at least some of our top dogs have come down off their pedestals to hang with the rest of us.

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I’m more of a Mets fan than a Yankees follower (I retain a favored place for the hapless Cubs) but I’m a long-time fan of Joe Torre. The catcher (beginning with my hometown team, the Milwaukee Braves) turned manager (including several seasons for the Mets), has been a real class act over the last twelve years, a nice balance to the bombastic George Steinbrenner, who he has famously withstood. But twelve years is a long time, punctuated by several inglorious near-misses as well as those World Series wins, not to mention health scares for him and his family. So is it time for Torre to go? Even his admirers think that something’s gotta give. From the sports writers to the bean counters to the Ultimate Decider, everyone’s looking at job performance, return on investment and (hopefully) the team’s well-being. Someone is (or several someones are) then held accountable and action is taken. The Mets are going through the same painful process across town.

 

Accountability seems to be operational in sports, maybe because so much money is involved. Still, I can’t help but wonder why it doesn’t work better when it comes to our government. Technically, we’re all owners. It’s our money. Elections are coming up. Let’s take a page from the owners and hell, the fans and get more insistent about job performance, return on investment and the well-being of our nation. The buck’s gotta stop somewhere.

 

 

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The headlines are painful even if you’re a casual baseball fan and boy, are there headlines! For residents of the outer boroughs and certain parts of New Jersey who were addicted to the trials and tribulations of the team that almost was, today feels not just like deja vu all over again but like a new kind of torture especially designed for loyal fans. Does it hurt more when you fall from on high? You bet it does. Is it worse when you’ve come to the end of a roller coaster season? Oh yeah. How about if your team is beaten by the last-place Marlins or the team spot in the playoffs that was within its reach goes to a rival that earlier this year marked 10,000 losses, the most of any franchise? Don’t even go there. For the uninitiated, the Mets were seven games ahead – seven! – in mid-September and just a short three weeks later they were banished from post-season play by virtue of an unprecedented dive, one which will, in the words of one sports writer, “consign the 2007 Mets to baseball infamy.” Whether you blame the sluggish bullpen or the undependable Reyes or whether you’re ready to run the estimable Willie Randolph out of town on a rail, it’s all moot. We still remember the ball bouncing through Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs during the 1986 World Series (an error that resulted in a seventh game and a World Series title for the Mets, incidentally), so no one believes this meltdown will soon be forgotten – or even forgiven.

The hardest part is that I’ve watched the sports section in the New York Times for years to see if and when the Mets would top the Yankees for coverage and be featured consistently above the fold – the mark, in old-fashioned newspaper parlance, of a significant story. Well, they’ve made it, with the Yankees discretely consigned to page three while they rest up for their thirteenth consecutive payoff season. The Mets are all over page 1. But not like this, fellas, not like this!

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Some people yell at the television, especially during sports events. I yell at the newspaper. This kind of venting is supposed to be good for you, although I’m not so sure. The stories in today’s paper, which I was reading at breakfast, gave me ample opportunity to release my frustrations. For instance, when I read that millionaires in Silicon Valley still felt poor and struggled to “get by,” I said very loudly, “More? You want MORE?” (from the musical “Oliver”), which I thought was clever. I mean, come on people. Anyway, I felt momentarily better but then I read that new rules designed to reduce the practice of earmarking money for pet projects in Congress has instead increased it because our representatives are competing for our tax dollars for their districts and even bragging about snagging the extra dough buried in some appropriations bill or other. “Everybody over to the trough, free pork!” I shouted at the newspaper and shook it a little for good measure. When I got to the piece about about the changed domestic surveillance bill passing despite serious misgivings, I found myself yelling, “Then why pass it?”. By the time I had perused the other headlines (forclosures up, stock prices down, healthcare still insufficient or out of reach for most, elite child athletes are seeing sports psychologists for heaven’s sake!), I was inflicting serious damage to the paper and I hadn’t even finished my first cup of coffee. That’s no way to begin the day so I balled up the front section, along with business and sports sections (I’m cranky about Barry Bonds’ pursuit of my beloved Hank Aarons’ home run record), took a deep breath and with a sigh, picked up the arts page where, by avoiding any references to pop culture celebrities without talent, I was able to sooth my troubled soul and finish breakfast.

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Crisis at the World Bank, crisis in the Middle East, ongoing crises in Africa: the news is dismal. Then there is the scandal plaguing professional cycling. I started watching the Tour de France in the early nineties but it was Lance Armstrong who really hooked me with his strength, his skill and his successful battle against cancer. We all bought the “Live Strong” bracelets in those years and we mostly discounted the rumors about artificially enhanced performance because he was our guy. But somewhere along the line money came into the picture, lots of it, what with all the endorsements, sponsorships and TV spots; then came drugs, notoriety and scandal. Now we have the disgraced 2006 Tour de France champion Floyd Landis spinning his wheels in a courtroom mired in tales of drugs used, drug tests failed and threats made by his manager against LeMonde, whose own difficult past has come to light. Looks like cycling hit paydirt; then the mud started flying.

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