Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Lunacy Continues

We are nearly nine months into the pandemic and things only seem to be getting worse. Not with the disease itself, but with the response to it. It boggles the mind how poorly this has been handled and yet governments continue to resort to needless tyranny to try to prevent the spread of the disease. Nowhere is this more obvious than the idiotic quarantine rules put forth by New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo.

Every Tuesday, the list of states from which travellers must quarantine is released. If either of two criteria (positivity rate over 10% or 10 cases per 100,000 residents, measured by a 7-day rolling average) is met, the state is added to the list. The first metric makes sense because positivity rate is tied to the number of people having the virus, but the second is utter stupidity. Cases per 100,000 is a function of testing and population size more than virus spread. A state with a large population that does not test much will have a low number of cases per 100K, similarly a state with a low population that tests a lot will have a high number. Look at Rhode Island, which tested the most in the nation at 10.5 per 1,000 over the past week and saw a positive rate of 1.9%, which ranks 7th (I use the Johns Hopkins testing trends for these numbers). Compare these numbers to Oregon (1.5 and 5.4% respectively). But Rhode Island's cases per 100K is 27.7, while Oregon is 7.9 (the CDC data tracker is better for this number), so the Ocean State is on the NY list, while we can happily return from Eugene without worry. Ironically, Cuomo once threatened to sue Rhode Island over a plan to stop cars with New York license plates. Hypocrisy is always a sign of toxic leadership, which is certainly what New York has suffered through these past few months. Speaking of hypocrites, Cuomo considers himself an essential worker, so he doesn't have to bother with these silly rules. Do as I say, not as I do, in other words. No points for guessing what other crappy leader this resembles.

Another ridiculous aspect of the quarantine law is the 14-day rule. At some point, it became accepted that symptoms might appear as late as 14 days after infection. This is at best extremely rare with the CDC estimating that 1% of cases will have symptoms appearing after this long (I cannot find any reliably documented evidence of anybody actually having symptoms appear after 14 days). Given that knowing exactly where and when you were exposed is very difficult, it is quite likely that one or two people guessed (wrongly) when they were exposed back at the beginning of the pandemic. This erroneous information was then reported to some medical oversight committee, who sent it on to the WHO, where it eventually became the rule. The median for the appearance of symptoms is around 5 days and I would be willing to quarantine for a week. But an additional week to capture less than 5% of possible cases? Again, unnecessary and overreaching.

What is even more irritating about this law is that testing, the most important aspect of any plan to fight the disease, is completely excluded. We now have reliable rapid tests, with results available in just a few minutes. In fact, Cuomo encourages New Yorkers to get tested, because that is how we get good data about positivity rates by area. The purpose of quarantine is to keep someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others. If I have a negative test, that would imply that I have not been exposed, right? Nope, not in the eyes of our gubernatorial despot, who is still scared witless after he sent COVID patients to nursing homes, a move that left thousands dead. Andrew Cuomo? Um, one coward. Ruling by fear, another sign of a tyrant. 

The level of absurdity hit a new high today. New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania all reached the threshold to be added to the quarantine list in New York, making 43 states and territories deemed risky. But they were given an exemption, because it is "impossible to enforce". WTF? Either a state is risky or it isn't. That's it. If you cannot enforce the quarantine based on your moronic criteria, then you cannot expect us to follow it. Cuomo says that we should avoid all non-essential travel to those states, putting the onus on us, rather than having his health officials revisit what is clearly a poorly conceived law.

Look, traveling to another state with a higher rate of positivity does not automatically imply that one might have been exposed. Exposure comes from being indoors, without a mask, regardless of what state you happen to be in. Yes, chances of exposure are related to the local positivity rate if you choose to behave foolishly and go to a restaurant or bar, or otherwise spend time indoors without a mask. But those who wear a face covering, avoid being indoors with others for an extended period of time, and practice other safety protocols, are not incurring enough of a larger risk to justify a draconian quarantine. Simply put, it is your actions that determine your chance at exposure and that is how you should be judged. All of us in New York went through a tough time in March and April, and most of us are well aware of how to stay safe. We don't need a dictator, benevolent or not, to tell us how to live, here at home or while traveling. 

So what should be done? As the CDC says, during and after a trip of any kind, we should "follow the same precautions [we] apply during [our] day-to-day lives". I agree, but realize that will not satisfy most health officials. So I would propose that if you travel to a state or country with a lower positivity rate, you must have a COVID test within three days of arriving, remaining quarantined until the test results are available. A negative test, and you can return to normal (as always, following all safety protocols); a positive test obviously means isolation for two weeks (and hopefully not the hospital or morgue). Many states and countries are already doing this, because it makes sense, encourages testing, and allows people to live reasonably normal lives. Why do Cuomo and his health department make things so much more difficult than necessary, especially when the pandemic has already made life miserable for so many? Chalk it up to government by the left, who always think they know better than the people they govern. Remember, you can't spell tyranny without NY.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Saint Louis FC 1 at Hartford Athletic 0 (USL Championship Playoffs, First Round) - October 10, 2020

Here in New York, where we have one of the lowest positivity rates in the nation, we are still not allowed to attend outdoor sporting events despite copious amounts of evidence that there is no transmission of the virus when outdoors, wearing masks, and socially distanced. Sadly, our governor has become a petty tyrant, creating idiotic quarantines and ridiculous local shutdowns instead of actually educating the public and getting the economy back on track. Governing by fear is a sure sign of tyranny and that is exactly what Andrew Cuomo is doing.

Fortunately, there are other jurisdictions where the government is actually listening to scientists and allowing limited attendance at certain games. One of those is Connecticut, where USL Championship team Hartford Athletic has been hosting matches since July. Fellow sports traveler Andrew (not Cuomo) is a season ticket holder and invited me up to see a match. I attended their final home game of the season, where they drew 1-1 with Philadelphia Union II. At that time, it looked like they would be on the road for the playoffs, but they won their final three games, all on the road, and clinched first place in Group F. This meant a home playoff tilt on the Saturday before Columbus Day, and so back I went, bringing the family to see the sights of the area.

I met Andrew at Thomas Hooker Brewery (named for the founder of the Colony of Connecticut), just a block away from the Dillon Stadium, where the club plays. The entire area is part of the Coltsville Historical District, where Samuel Colt's factory and armory were located. The district is under consideration to be a National Historic Park, but the process has stalled. But that is not relevant to my visit, which was to add a new venue to my list and see some live sports.

Dillon Stadium opened in 1935 and after years of disuse had become quite a dump. The Hartford Sports Group, founded in 2015, was able to secure $10 million in government funds and $1.2 million from a community foundation, and after adding $2.3 million of their own cash, completely renovated the venue. The new stadium opened in July 2019, in the middle of the team's first campaign, and welcomed a sell-out crowd of 5,500. That had to be a day game, because lights were not added until September. This year, obviously, sellouts would see far less fans, with 25% of capacity during the regular season, which was raised to 40% for the playoff game. 

As with most low-level soccer stadiums, there are two stands on either side of the pitch. The west side (above) contains three sections of chairbacks, with the rest as benches, and all seats are reserved. Meanwhile, the east side (below) is entirely general admission ($20), with the sections at the south end taken by the various groups of supporters.

Behind one net is a series of "suites", which seem to be picnic tables with a tarp roof (below). These are marketed to groups, with one costing $600 for six fans, though that $180 in food and beverage for the group. There are picnic tables open to the public at the other end (visible above), and you can also stand here during the game.

Concessions are just inside the main entrance, with the Cantina (below) offering pizza and canned beer among other delights, though you do have to wait inside for a couple of minutes as the line winds around. There is another concession stand a few feet away that was entirely outside, but there was never a problem with pandemic protocols here, as masks were mandatory, even when seated. You could only remove your mask to eat or drink, and you had to put it back immediately after taking a bite. There were even staff members watching fans and if you had your mask off for more than 30 seconds, you were warned, and if you failed to heed that warning, you were ejected, as happened to one perplexed fan. 

That is really all to write about the stadium, and I did not do my usual tour due to the restrictions. It is a great place to visit for those who enjoy a bit of history and craft beer with their sports, and once things get back to some semblance of normalcy, I would encourage any soccer fan to make the journey to Hartford to check out an Athletic match at Dillon Stadium.

The Game

The visitors were Saint Louis FC, who had finished second in Group E in what would be their final season, as they will cease operations after the season due to the pandemic and an MLS club coming to the city in 2023. A few of their supporters had made the trip and were sitting in the first few rows in our section.

Both teams use green and blue as their primary colours, with Hartford obviously reprising the Whalers scheme. As the home team, they had the honour of wearing those uniforms, while Saint Louis (not St. Louis) wore road whites. The first 20 minutes saw four great saves, including three by STLFC's Kyle Morton, who I saw last year when he tended goal for Pittsburgh. After that, things hit a bit of a dull stretch and the half arrived without a goal.

More of the same in the second period, with both teams having a couple of chances, but nothing could cross the line and it looked like extra time would be needed. But in the third minute of added time, Hartford defender Kevin Politz fouled Mour Samb (who scored the last goal in Ottawa Fury history), and the ball fell to Joaquin Rivas, who was in alone. The referee correctly played advantage and Rivas drove the ball past Parfait Mandanda to give Saint Louis the last-minute win. The team celebrated with their supporters, violating the social distancing rule, but nobody seemed to care. Highlights are here.

Saint Louis FC is still alive for one more game as they travel to Louisville this weekend and I will update the results here. Update: St. Louis lost 2-0 to Louisville, who will host Tampa Bay in the Eastern final.

Notes

I saw that game in which Samb scored, which Ottawa lost on penalties. That turned out to be their final game as the team ceased operations, to be replaced by a new franchise that will play in the Canadian league. So I was happy that St. Louis won, so I didn't have to witness the end of another team in this league. I was even happier that extra time was avoided, as I was able to stop at the liquor store by my hotel, which closed at 10, and pick up some wine for my wife.

Next Up

A trip to Texas for the World Series action, because chances like this are once in a lifetime. There's also an FCS game at Globe Life Park, and a NASCAR race, so it will be my first real sports road trip since March. As always, check back for recaps, as well as more angry posts about the inept government under which I reside. 

Best,

Sean


Monday, September 14, 2020

Sioux Falls Canaries 6 at Milwaukee Milkmen 11 (American Association Championship, Game 1)


MLB is not the only baseball circuit to play a 60-game schedule in 2020. The American Association's six teams have just completed their 60-game campaign, with all but two matches being played as the Chicago Dogs and Sioux Falls Canaries had a doubleheader rained out on the last day of the season. Unlike MLB's expanded playoffs, the AA admitted only two clubs to their postseason party, with the Milwaukee Milkmen taking the pennant followed by the Canaries. The matchup became fairly obvious about a week before so I decided to book a flight to Chicago for the weekend in anticipation of the Milkmen hosting game one on Saturday evening. There were no upsets during the final week of play, and so I flew to Chicago, rented a car, and drove the hour north to Franklin, a suburb southwest of Milwaukee.



The Milkmen play out of Franklin Field, which is sponsored by the Franklin Tourism Commission. The ballpark opened last year and was named Routine Field for that season but there were some legal issues that caused that naming agreement to fail and Franklin stepped in to take over. Eventually, there is supposed to be a visitor center here to direct tourists to all the Franklin hotspots.



There are many similarities to Impact Field in Rosemont, with proximity to the airport being one. Unfortunately, a flight to Milwaukee was four times the price of a flight to Chicago, which is why I flew to O'Hare and drove up, parking for free in the spacious lot next to the main entrance. The area around the ballpark is a sports and entertainment complex, and the Umbrella Bar is a good place to pregame if the weather is co-operating. As you can tell from the pictures, it was not on this night. When I arrived in Franklin, it was raining steadily and I was worried the trip would be all for naught, but the weather cleared in time.



The sun even made a brief appearance behind the suites and press box before the game began, but by first pitch it was gloomy again and a misty rain fell steadily for much of the evening, not enough to stop proceedings, but enough to force many fans under the roof.



I had picked up an outfield combo ticket, which includes a hot dog and beer for $14. This is a bargain as the hot dog is what you would expect in Milwaukee, big and tasty, and the beer is a 16-ounce can with choice limited to Coors Light, Miller Lite, and PBR. You are supposed to sit in the outfield with this ticket, but I chose to stand for most of the game, sitting in the infield seats for the last couple of innings. This section is known as the MOSH Seating Bowl and I thought it was in homage to the old mosh pits at concerts, but MOSH is actually Milwaukee Orthopedic Specialty Hospital, another local sponsor.



There are many other seating options, including Golf Bays, which are 6-seater areas along the concourse with comfy seats. At $20 per seat and only a $50 minimum order per bay, these are an ideal option for small groups who want to relax. You can see the bays underneath the roof in the photo below.




As usual, I took a walk around. Obviously, with the pandemic, attendance was limited, but there were still decent food choices as is legally required in Wisconsin, including a $4 mac and cheese that was tempting.



As you can see, the seating bowl has yellow and grey seats, which is quite eye-catching from beyond the outfield fence.



There is a significant bit of foul territory here, and as such, the protective netting does not extend above the dugout, a rarity these days, especially in a new ballpark.



The scoreboard is above the left field fence and is very impressive for this level. For visiting players, the picture is of an old TV character such as Fred Flintstone or Larry David instead of the player himself.



The Milkmen do a fantastic job with their nickname in various ways, starting with the tag line "Milwaukee's Udder Pro Baseball Team". The mascot is Bo Vine (number 2%, below) and the crowd is encouraged to Moo. Several promotions make use of the dairy theme as well, including a race where three fans have to put on an oversized, wrap-around cow costume and race around the infield warning track. Very creative and keeps you paying attention during the inning breaks. The only bothersome bit was having music played between every pitch; it would be nice to hear the sounds of the ballpark once in a while.



Overall, however, I was very impressed with Franklin Field and only wish that the weather had been more welcoming. I first visited independent league ballparks during my six-month trip in 2001 and those were less than compelling and certainly not comparable to the minor league stadiums I was also seeing on that journey. Since then, I have held the independent leagues in low esteem, but after recent visits to Long Island and Somerset and now Chicago and Milwaukee, it is obvious that independent ball has come a long way in the last 20 years. I will certainly be including these ballparks on future trips and look forward to seeing the rest that the American Association has to offer.

The Game

Sioux Falls started Tyler Herron, who was drafted in the supplemental round, 46th overall by St. Louis in 2005 (just behind Jed Lowrie) after leading the nation with a 0.25 ERA as a high schooler. Unfortunately, Herron never made it to the bigs, but he has enjoyed a peripatetic career, plying his trade for 24 different teams in 15 years. That's him warming up in Canary yellow below; his 7 wins tied for the league lead. His mound opponent was David Holmberg, who led the league with a 2.34 ERA while notching 6 victories. Holmberg was drafted in the 2nd round by the White Sox in 2009 and spent parts of four seasons with Arizona, Cincinnati, and the Chisox.



Sadly, what should have been an interesting pitching matchup was over quickly as Herron was not sharp in the first inning, giving up a walk and five hits, the last a 2-run homer to Christian Correa that made it 6-0. Sioux Falls got a couple back when Jabari Henry crushed a moonshot over the scoreboard in the second, while the Milkmen added another in the bottom half as Herron remained in the game. In fact, he settled down, while Holmberg was removed after four frames. When Sioux Falls plated another pair in the top of the sixth to make it 7-4, a comeback seemed possible, but Herron gave up back-to-back jacks to Brett Vertigan and Dylan Tice that ended his night after 108 pitches. Each team added two more runs to make the final 11-6. The scoreboard is below; note the cartoon character for the last batter, Alay Lago.



All in all, a fun evening and one well worth the trip.

Notes

I flew out of O'Hare on Sunday morning and had an incredible view of the entire airfield, which was the world's busiest in terms of take-offs and landings in 2019. It always surprises me how many people keep their window shades down instead of getting such wonderful shots.



The Milkmen shutout the Canaries 2-0 in Game 2 (which I could not stay for due to New York's idiotic quarantine law) and the series now moves to Sioux Falls for the week before returning to Milwaukee, if necessary. Update: it was not necessary as the Milkmen took 2 of 3 in South Dakota to win the series in 5. Good thing I didn't stick with my original plan to see Game 6.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, August 23, 2020

St. Paul Saints 6 at Chicago Dogs 3 (American Association) - August 21, 2020


I was originally planning to be in the Dakotas this week, but when South Dakota was added to New York's list of states from which visitors must quarantine, I had to change my plans. Although the quarantine is mostly unenforceable, there are penalties if you don't follow it and cause harm to someone else, which is within the realm of possibility with our child returning to day care next month.

That happened to open up this weekend for a trip and I decided to use miles to get to Chicago to see another independent league baseball game. The American Association has been holding games at five locations, including Fargo and Sioux Falls, which I had hoped to visit. One of the other home teams is the Chicago Dogs, who play out of Impact Field in Rosemont. Readers familiar with the Blue Line out of O'Hare know that Rosemont is the first stop after the airport, and the stadium is a 20-minute walk from there, so a car is not necessary. You can see the ballpark in the middle of the shot below.



I was staying in a nearby hotel and made the five-minute stroll over the 294 on the bridge you can see just to the left of the stadium in the photo above. Most fans drive and park in the $3 lot adjacent to the stadium. The main entrance is along Pearl Street, where you can find the ticket office. As the game was sold out, there was no line up on this night. The naming rights are owned by Impact Networking, a local IT solutions provider.



The Dogs are selling only certain seats to maintain social distancing and a sellout means just 1,400 fans in attendance, less than 25% of the 6,300 capacity. As the team wants to sell at various price points (from $9 for outfield seats up to $85 for the suites), a general admission approach is not possible. So the Dogs have determined exactly which seats to sell and you must choose one of those seats when purchasing online. As a single fan, I could not buy one from a pair and strand a single seat, so I picked up one of a group of four and figured I could move if the other three showed up.



Before entering, my temperature was checked, and that was it. Of course, when I bought my ticket online, I had to acknowledge the risk of COVID-19, which is the way of the future. Masks are mandatory when walking along the concourse, but not when seated. It was Happy Friday, which meant a free t-shirt as well as drink specials that are listed on the scoreboard above. Unfortunately, there was only one stand selling these drinks, so a 20-minute wait was required (below). That is the parking garage directly behind.



Those in the queue were serenaded by a local music school band that ably belted out some classics, all while wearing masks. Given the difficulty in scheduling live performances these days, it was good work by the staff here to get the kids a chance to practice in front of a crowd.



I took two laps of the stadium concourse for photo purposes, one before the game, and one during. The Saints are warming up in the shot below.



The scoreboard is impressive for an independent league team, and stands above left field, with the 294 running behind. Eagle-eyed readers will notice the Big Ten logo underneath; the conference headquarters are on the other side of the highway and there was a protest that morning with about 25 parents of football players demanding the season go forward. My hotel was so concerned as to send me an email about the "peaceful protest", but by the time I checked in around 2:00, a solitary father remained, speaking to local news.



The aforementioned $85 suites are above the seating bowl along first base (below). The ballpark was opened in 2018 and they incorporated so much from other stadiums, although not everything was on display due to the pandemic.



They even have drink rails that you can see above the seating bowl above, but these were closed, though I can't figure out why. If you are standing there above the seating bowl wearing a mask, you should be fine. I would expect fans from different groups to have the sense to not stand next to strangers.



Another special seating area is the Leinie Lodge, sponsored by Leinenkugel's. Located above the third base concourse, it caters to groups so I did not have a chance to get up there. My seat, for which I paid $12 plus a $2 fee, was down the third base line and as it turned out, the other three fans did not show up. It is also possible that the Dogs removed those tickets from inventory or moved them elsewhere after I bought a single, I am not really sure. You are asked to sit in your ticketed seat, but this is not enforced; but again, fans are sensible enough to avoid getting too close to strangers. The view is below.



Many of the concession stands are closed but one that is not is The Wiener Circle. This is the only other location of the iconic eatery located near Wrigley Field that I visited back in 2017 when the Jays were swept by the Cubs. Sadly, I did not get insulted here, though the Char Dog was decent at $6.



As you would expect, the mascots are condiments, with Mustard and Ketchup a dance between innings with some kids who are relishing the experience.



The press box is in the building that also houses the ticket office. There is not a complete stadium structure here, rather the seating bowl is surrounded by a concourse, and then separate buildings for suites, the club, the press box, and concessions have been constructed. As was noted by another fan, there is no cover in the event of rain, but you can return to the garage if that happens.



The sun sets behind first base and provides some beautiful views as the evening progresses.



This is from just to the left of the batter's eye.



From my seat in the sixth inning, with a crescent moon in the top right corner.



Overall, I was very impressed with Impact Field, especially the job they have done given the circumstances. I have generally looked down on independent baseball as the quality of both stadiums and games is not quite up to minor league standards, but this is obviously an outdated opinion. The Dogs have accomplished a lot in offering baseball to the local population and they will be rewarded in the long run. Not only was the stadium top-notch, the game was exciting too.

The Game

The St. Paul Saints were in town for a three-game set, the two clubs having just played three up in Minnesota's capital, with Chicago winning the last two. Luke Westphal started for the Dogs, with Nick Belzer his mound opponent. The Dogs scored in the 2nd on three straight two-out singles, and added a pair in the 5th on a homer from Logan Moore and an unearned run. Meanwhile, Westphal was strong, tossing 7 yielding just 3 hits and no walks. The scoreboard pitch speed touched 96, but I am pretty sure that was slightly inflated.



The following pitcher was Jalen Miller, who allowed the Saints on the board after a walk, groundout and double. He reached 101 on the speed gun, so it is definitely exaggerated. Up 3-1, Chicago brought in Scott Shuman to close things out in the 9th. Unfortunately, he struggled, giving up a double, a walk, and then a monster 3-run homer to Josh Allen, who is not the Bills QB. The ball sailed deep into the night over the left field fence and gave St. Paul the 4-3 lead. A few batters later, Troy Alexander added a 2-run shot for some insurance. All that happened on just 16 pitches.



The only upside of the blown lead is that we got a chance to see the Rally Pickle try and inspire the Dogs, but on this night, they were unable to ketchup (sorry), getting just a single from former Blue Jay farmhand Michael Crouse off Jameson McGrane, who earned the save in the Saints 6-3 triumph.



A surprisingly well-played game that kept fans entertained until the end, despite the home loss. The players are generally older than those in the minors and play a more polished game, with some excellent defense included. I will be adding independent league ballparks to my list of places to visit and plan to see the Saints at home next month. Now that the CDC has said that quarantines are not necessary, maybe I can stay longer than 24 hours. Well, that would assume a logical approach from Governor Cuomo, so nope, that's not gonna happen.

Notes



While doing my rounds, I was surprised to see another sports traveler, also named Sean, who is part of our Club 123 meetups and lives a few miles north of the ballpark. Even with masks on, we immediately recognized each other and we spent the last few innings discussing all the missed travel opportunities. He was scheduled to complete Club 123 in San Antonio a few days before the season was cancelled, but he has made the most of the summer by visiting many other ballparks around the Midwest. Always good to run into a familiar face (or set of eyes) when on the road.

Best,

Sean

Monday, August 10, 2020

NHL #1 Seeds to Meet in the Finals


The Stanley Cup Qualifiers have been completed, so now it is time for the actual playoffs. There were some significant changes from the expected outcomes based on season series that I posted back in May, so I will do it again, mainly in a pathetic attempt to put some sports related content on the blog. As always, this method has never picked the eventual champion, but sooner or later, I'm sure it will.

Eastern Conference

The quarterfinals:
#1 Philadelphia over #12 Montreal (2-1)
#2 Tampa Bay over #9 Columbus (1-0)
#3 Washington over #7 NY Islanders (2-2, 14-14 goals, Washington advances on better record)
#4 Boston over #6 Carolina (1-0)

Reseeding for the conference semifinals:
#1 Philadelphia over #4 Boston (4-1)
#3 Washington over #2 Tampa Bay (3-1)

Eastern Conference Final
Philadelphia over Washington (4-0-1)

Top seeded Flyers win the East.

Western Conference

Quarterfinals:
#1 Vegas over #12 Chicago (2-1)
#11 Arizona over #2 Colorado (1-0-1)
#8 Calgary over #3 Dallas (2-1)
#7 Vancouver over #4 St. Louis (2-1)

Reseeding for the conference semifinals:
#1 Vegas over #11 Arizona (2-1)
#8 Calgary over #7 Vancouver (2-1)

Western Conference Final:
Vegas over Calgary (3-0)

The #1 seed Knights take the West.

Stanley Cup Final

Philadelphia over Vegas 1-1, 10-7 on goals

So the Flyers will be the asterisk winners. Of course, as this prediction method has never been right over about six attempts, the only guarantee is that another club will win. Update; Flyers are out after the second round.

Update after first round: Although Philadelphia and Vegas are still alive, the season series winners completely change now that Arizona, Calgary, and Washington are out. The East Final sees the Islanders over Tampa Bay, while the West is interesting in that Dallas won the season series 1-0-1 over Vegas, but the Golden Knights won the seeding game between the two, so it depends on whether you include that seeding game. Both teams beat the Islanders 1-0-1.

Update after the second round: All four series were won by the team that took the season series. I include the seeding game, so Vegas will win the Cup over the Islanders.

As for a personal prediction, I'm taking Calgary Colorado Vegas Tampa Bay because I always pick the team that Dallas is facing.

Best,

Sean

Thursday, July 23, 2020

An Abundance of Fear and Ignorance


The MLB season started today and as of now, the Toronto Blue Jays do not have a home. This is because the Government of Canada did not allow the club an exemption to the 14-day quarantine rule that affects all visitors to the country. The NHL was able to negotiate just such an exemption and will use Toronto and Edmonton as its hub cities with players in secure bubbles, but the Blue Jays and the visiting teams are considered too risky given the outbreaks in the US, despite rigorous testing for all members of the travelling parties.

The Canadian government is not the only one that has overreacted to such a tiny number of people coming in. The Blue Jays had reached an agreement with the Pirates to play in PNC Park, only to have that denied by health officials in Pennsylvania. Apparently having 60 games hosted in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia is acceptable, but an additional 24 (there are some conflicts) is far too dangerous. These decisions show just how little those at the top really understand risk as they ignore far more insecure situations to continue unabated.

Having the Blue Jays play 30 games in Toronto presents far less risk than the thousands of truckers crossing the border daily with their essential (and non-essential) goods. They are not tested despite many of them coming from hotspots, and they are certainly interacting with the public more than the players ever would. But this inconvenient fact is ignored by the media.

My dislike of the Canadian government has become full-blown disgust at their high-minded hypocrisy. Five months into the pandemic and leaders are still propagating fear, helped by a media desperate for eyeballs. The public, unable to think for themselves, act like we are at the beginning of the Plague, instead of well into the spread of a disease that has an infection fatality rate (IFR) of approximately 0.05% (that is 1/2000) for people under 70, with almost all of those resulting from known co-morbidities.

Why are people still frightened? We know that the disease is primarily transmitted in indoor venues where people spend an extended period of time, especially while not wearing masks. There is no evidence of the disease being transmitted in an outdoor setting while wearing a face covering or social distancing. The protests showed this. The best way to prevent further spread of the disease is to keep places such as restaurants, bars, casinos, churches, and offices closed until the infection rate is low enough (whatever that may be), and to enforce a mask mandate, particularly on subways and other modes of transport. With the Rogers Centre next to a hotel at which players could isolate, it would be quite easy to keep the players separate from the general public. Of course, it is not a perfect bubble, as hotel workers would come back and forth, but that will be the same situation as facing the NHL. You cannot eliminate risk, but you can certainly minimize it. People saying the NHL plan is perfectly fine while MLB's plan is too risky have not thought this through.

Remember when the whole point of flattening the curve was to avoid overwhelming hospitals? Now it seems like the goal in many areas is to huddle down until a vaccine is found. This despite the fact that a vaccine is no guarantee against infection; viruses mutate and who knows if the vaccine you receive will protect you against the variant you might encounter in a year. The flu shot reduces the risk of catching the flu by 40-60% according to the CDC, with the caveat "during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well matched to the flu vaccine viruses". Well matched. That doesn't happen every year.

Of course, on the opposite end of the spectrum are those rallying against masks and calling the whole thing a hoax. Leaders such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (a Republican) have made grave errors by reopening too early, and the public, again lacking a understanding of how this disease works and possibly turned off by all the fear-mongering, rushed out to infect each other in restaurants, bars, and churches. Covidiocy indeed.

It is a lamentable fact that the coronavirus has become a political issue in the United States. The left is terrified while the right is defiant and they react to each other, while those in the center are forced to suffer either way. In New York, the curve has flattened to where we have a positive test rate around 1%. Still, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has instituted a poorly conceived (and impossible to enforce) policy that requires those who have visited one of 31 states where infection rates are rising to self-quarantine for 14 days upon entering New York. He has also threatened to close down all bars and restaurants because a few have not been following the rules. It was his incompetence and dithering back in March that helped New York become the world leader in the COVID-19 death rate; now he acts like we are all little children and he is our grand protector. Sorry Andy, but those of us who can read and have working minds are fully capable of taking care of ourselves. Instead, tell us the goal. Are we waiting for an infection rate of 0% before getting back to normal? There is no reason that the Yankees and Mets could not host a limited number of fans following social distancing protocols, but we hear nothing about when this could actually happen. Fear of another outbreak is the dominant theme, rather than starting conversations about how to continue the return to normalcy.

Sadly, it is now obvious that we will be in this mess for a very long time. Pandemics generally last at least two years, and with the clueless leading the clueless (on both sides of the political divide), fear and ignorance will continue to be the primary drivers of behaviour. By the way, this is not the first time I have written about scaremongering and media complicity as I lived in Japan during the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown.

For now, I urge you to read as much as possible from a variety of sources (certainly not relying on this blog, which serves as my way to release pent-up anger), including those who might present a different viewpoint from your own. Reach your own conclusions; stay fearful if you must, but there is no excuse for remaining ignorant. And who knows, maybe I will see you at a game in 2021.

Update: The Jays will be playing in Buffalo in 2020, and Cuomo is happy with that. So he is not a complete loss.

Best,

Sean

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Washington Kastles 24 at Vegas Rollers 18 (World Team Tennis) - July 19, 2020


The first big sport to announce that they would be open to fans was World Team Tennis, which did so back in late May. The entire season would be held at The Greenbrier (main hotel below), America's oldest resort located in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The tennis facility there seats 2,500 fans, but only 500 would be allowed in each day. With no other sports road trip possible at the time, I immediately began making plans to attend, but I needed another event nearby to make it worthwhile. I first paired it with a visit to the PGA's Memorial Tournament, which initially intended to allow fans, but when they reversed that decision, I had to scramble to find a Coastal Plain League game in Martinsville instead.



After the game, I spent the evening in Roanoke, and then awoke early Sunday, driving up beautiful Route 311 to reach White Sulphur Springs before noon. Google Maps suggests using US220 and I-64 (10 miles longer but saving you 5 minutes), but Route 311 is far more enjoyable, being both scenic and rather winding, keeping you on your toes as you drive. As it was a very hot and clear day, sunscreen was essential and on the way in to town, I stopped at Family Dollar. They had exactly one tube of sunscreen left, specifically for babies, but at SPF 50, it works for old people too. Without it, I would have roasted.



Parking for the WTT is at the Amtrak station across the street from The Greenbrier. You had to take the shuttle bus in (above); before boarding my temperature was taken and I received a happy face stamp on my hand to indicate that I did not have a fever. The bus was also limited to 50% capacity and masks were mandatory. The ride was about two minutes long.



The bus drops you off right in front of the entrance, where you can find a banner listing all nine WTT teams. There is also a ticket window, though I had bought my ticket immediately after they went on sale, picking up the first ticket for the day and possibly the tournament.



The entrance was very simple, just a tent with fans entering on the right and exiting on the left. Another temperature check was necessary for those who had driven in and thus lacked the happy face stamp. There was just one lady scanning tickets and disappointingly, my #1 ticket was not acknowledged. You had to be wearing a mask to get in and as you walked around the concourse, but you could take it off when sitting down.



I had paid $60 for an upper bowl seat, $50 less than a lower bowl seat, which included access to the VIP lounge (below). Shade would have been nice, but the sunscreen cost only $3.50 and I could watch the match as well. Tickets actually went up $12 as the date got closer, so there must have been some demand, but even then, I don't think it was sold out.



This is the WTT's 45th season and a list of league champions was placed near the entrance. Remember that Sacramento dynasty? There is not a lot of continuity year to year in terms of team membership, though some players do spend multiple seasons with the same franchise, such as Martina Hingis with the Washington Kastles from 2013-17.



The stadium is officially dubbed Center Court at Creekside as it is right next to Howard Creek, which winds its way through the property.



Below is a shot of the creek and a bridge that leads to the golf course, which was used for the PGA's recently discontinued Greenbrier Classic.



Inside the venue, the lower level consists of just 9 rows of seats along both sides, with every second row blocked off to ensure social distancing.



The upper bowl is much larger and you pretty much had a section to yourself if you wanted. Most fans brought large umbrellas to keep themselves shaded.



Along the top of the walkway in the upper bowl are pennants for each team in the circuit, including my hometown New York Empire, who I saw back in 2016.



Below is the view from center court in the upper bowl. The team benches are covered by umbrellas, while the suites and media room are behind the seating area. To the left of the suites is the concession stand, which offers a few items at not outrageous prices, with cans of beer going for just $5. The food menu was rather limited as you would expect with so few fans, by the time I decided to buy something, only hot dogs and hamburgers were left as main items. No problem bringing your own food in if you plan to stay for a while.



The camera booth was at one end of the stadium and provided a small bit of shade to the side, of which some fans availed themselves throughout the day. As you can tell, it is quite a scenic environment.



Overall, I was impressed by how seamless the event was given the circumstances. All fans here respected the rules regarding masks and social distancing and other leagues should take note as the WTT has proven that you can have sporting events with fans when proper measures are taken. Instead, five months into the pandemic, fear and ignorance continue to rule. More on that in a future post.

The Matches

I lucked out with the matches as each of the first two featured a player I wanted to see. First off, it was the Washington Kastles featuring Venus Williams taking on the Vegas Rollers. WTT matches feature one set of each variety (men's and women's singles and doubles and mixed doubles) with each set going to 5 games, a deciding point at the first deuce, and a 9-point tiebreak should the set reach 4-all.



The first set saw Williams (serving below) and Arina Rodionova taking on Asia Muhammad and Kristie Ahn, a Flushing native, with the Kastles prevailing 5-1.



The next four sets all went to tiebreak, with the highlight being Ahn, an injury replacement for Monica Puig, defeating Williams in the only win for Vegas. That was the first of three sets broadcast nationally on CBS. The final set saw the Bryan brothers losing to Nick Monroe and Marcelo Arevalo as Washington prevailed 24-18. Monroe made an incredible passing shot that was the #6 play on SportsCenter that evening. The whole match took 3:15, helped by a 30-minute wait before the women's singles due to the broadcast start time.



There was also a 30-minute break before the next match between the Orlando Storm, and the expansion Chicago Smash, who feature Eugenie Bouchard, the other player I had also hoped to see. I went over to explore the hotel, returning in time to see Orlando's Tennys Sandgren beat Brandon Nakashima in a tiebreak. Bouchard (serving below, note the ESPN logo on the net replacing the CBS logo that was there earlier) then joined Bethanie Mattek-Sands for a doubles set against Danielle Collins and Jessica Pegula, daughter of Terry and Kim, who own the Buffalo Bills. My Canadian heritage outranks my Bills fandom and I cheered as Bouchard led the Smash to a 5-3 victory.



After five hours in the sun, I was thoroughly baked and with Bouchard no longer scheduled to play, decided to head back to Roanoke, skipping the rest of the match (won by Chicago 24-19 as they took the final 3 sets, with Bouchard subbing in to overcome a 4-1 deficit against Collins). I was back at my hotel as the match finished and followed the final match online as San Diego beat Orange County 20-14 in another blowout where the winning team took 4 of 5 sets. This was also a rematch of the 2016 championship that I attended at Forest Hills Stadium.

Not a particularly competitive day on the courts, but I was very happy to conclude a sports travel weekend by adding my 832nd venue to the list.

Update: the season ended on August 2nd with the New York Empire defeating Chicago 21-20 in a super tiebreaker. There were no reports of fans or WTT members contracting the coronavirus.

Notes

On Monday, Collins was dismissed from the rest of the season after leaving the Greenbrier, thus breaking the pandemic protocols.

There was some entertainment provided as well. Mcenafro, (i.e. a John McEnroe impersonator with his 70s afro) and the WTT Dancers gave a couple of short performances that were mildly amusing.



The area is known for a spring of sulphur water that visitors have been "taking" for medicinal purposes since 1778. The Springhouse (below) sits atop the spring and has been the symbol of the resort since 1835. There is much to see and do here, including a bunker that was always ready to host the government in times of emergency. It was never used and is now a tourist attraction.



Next Up

Still hoping to get to some other collegiate wood bat and independent league games that are scattered around the country. Unfortunately, New York is now asking people coming from 31 states to quarantine themselves for two weeks. Like I said, fear and ignorance are still ruling the day, so we shall see if I can figure out a way to travel without having to spend 14 days at home upon my return. Check back regularly to see what transpires.

Best,

Sean