Monday, November 7, 2022

2022 MLB Award Predictions

The MLB award finalists are out, so it is again time to look at the Bases Per Out (BPO) statistic to determine who should win each award. To refresh your memory, the formula is: (TB+BB+SB+HBP+SAC+SF)/(AB-H+CS+SAC+SF+GIDP). That's the total bases achieved by the batter against the number of outs he made, and obviously, the higher the ratio the better. As usual, this stat ignores defense, which is why it is imperfect, but it does give some insight into a player's offensive contributions and is much better than OPS.

MVP

The top five in BPO in the AL:
Player         Bases  Outs   BPO
Aaron Judge     529    415  1.275
Yordan Alvarez  380    346  1.098
Jose Altuve     376    384  0.979
Jose Ramirez    413    454  0.910
Shohei Ohtani   395    444  0.890

The finalists are Judge, Alvarez, and Ohtani. Obviously, Shohei is included because he also pitches, and his Outs per Base on the mound (as you will see below) is third in the league. Does his pitching make him more valuable than Judge despite Aaron being 43% higher in offensive BPO? Nope. Judge meant more to the Yankees 99 wins than Ohtani did to the Angels abysmal 73. Is Ohtani the better player? Of course, there has been nobody like him in history. If you believe his should win this year, then he should win every year he plays most of a season, assuming he continues to be as good as he is. But his 166 innings do not make up for Judge nearly winning the Triple Crown and leading his team to the division title. Winner: Judge.

The top six in the NL:
Player           Bases  Outs   BPO
Paul Goldschmidt  419    394  1.063
Freddie Freeman   422    429  0.984
Juan Soto         382    411  0.929
Manny Machado     382    421  0.907
Mookie Betts      384    432  0.889
Nolan Arenado     365    416  0.877
The finalists are Goldschmidt, Machado, and Arenado, as Freeman is overlooked since he won last year.  Goldschmidt is the only one who had more bases than outs in the league this season and should win based on that. If he doesn't, I would be very surprised. Winner: Goldschmidt.

Cy Young

For pitchers, the statistic is reversed, giving Outs Per Base ((IP*3)/(TB+BB+HBP+WP+BK+SB+SH+SF)), with higher numbers again better.

The top seven qualifiers in the AL:
Player           Outs  Bases  OPB
Justin Verlander 525    220  2.386
Shane McClanahan 499    238  2.097
Shohei Ohtani    498    246  2.024
Alek Manoah      590    304  1.941
Shane Bieber     600    312  1.923
Triston McKenzie 574    305  1.882
Dylan Cease      552    297  1.859
The finalists are Verlander, Cease, and Manoah. No-brainer here, Verlander should win and will win and Kate Upton will be happy. Winner: Verlander.

The top 11 qualifier in the NL:
Player          Outs  Bases  OPB
Max Fried        556   265  2.098
Zac Gallen       552   269  2.052
Aaron Nola       615   318  1.934
Sandy Alcantara  686   356  1.927
Carlos Rodon     534   278  1.921
Yu Darvish       584   307  1.902
Julio Urias      525   277  1.895
Corbin Burnes    606   320  1.894
Tyler Anderson   536   284  1.887
Miles Mikolas    607   336  1.807
Kyle Wright      541   304  1.780
This is a tricky one (only those who qualified for the ERA title are included, which eliminates several such as Spencer Strider and Max Scherzer). Kyle Wright led the league in wins despite his relatively low OPB. The finalists are Alcantara, Fried, and Urias. Fried has the better BPO, mainly because Alcantara was hurt by 50 walks and 24 stolen bases while he was on the mound. You can argue that stolen bases should not be detrimental to a pitcher's statistics, but they benefit when a runner is caught stealing, so you have to include thefts as well. Still, those 24 stolen bases will not mean much when looking at Alcantara's six complete games and the fact that he pitched 43.1 more innings than Fried. Alcantara should win and will win. Winner: Alcantara.

Rookie of the Year 

In the AL, the nominees are Julio Rodriguez (Mariners, 0.877 BPO), Adley Rutschman (Orioles, 0.832) and Steven Kwan (Indians, 0.769). These are the top three in the league in BPO, with Julio the leader by far. He should win and will win. Winner: Rodriguez.

The NL rookie finalists are Michael Harris II (Braves, 0.864 BPO), Brendan Donovan (Cardinals, 0.769 BPO), and Spencer Strider (Braves, best in the league 2.194 OPB although he only threw 131.2 innings). Still, finishing tops in the league should garner him the win, though Harris made a few highlight reel catches and that might give him some sway with voters. Strider should win, but this is the one race where the outcome might differ from my prediction. Winner: Harris II, which shows that baseball writers still don't understand the game.


Best,

Sean

Thursday, October 20, 2022

World Cup Trip

This year's World Cup takes place in November in Qatar, immediately after the Formula 1 race in Abu Dhabi. I had these events on my radar for a long time, and when Canada qualified for the tournament, I decided to combine the two into my first major international sports road trip. Even when I lived in Japan and Singapore, I never took extended sports trips outside North America; and since moving to the States, the longest overseas trip for just sports was five days in London back in 2015. Thus, I'll add a post detailing the schedule, something I have not done since 2019. 

Initially, I was just planning on seeing the F1 race and four World Cup games, but some other events have been added to the schedule, and it will actually be quite a busy trip after all. Most notably, Canada and Japan will be playing a soccer friendly in Dubai on the day I arrive, a very happy coincidence that should start the trip off right. 

Here is the full schedule:

Thu, Nov 17 DP World Tour Championship, Dubai 7:00
Thu, Nov 17 Canada vs. Japan, Dubai 17:40
Fri, Nov 18 Cameroon vs. Panama, Abu Dhabi 14:00
Sat, Nov 19 F1 Qualifying, Abu Dhabi 18:00
Wed, Nov 23 Belgium vs. Canada 22:00
Fri, Nov 25 Wales vs. Iran 13:00
Sat, Nov 26 Poland vs. Saudi Arabia 16:00
Sun, Nov 27 Spain vs. Germany 22:00
Mon, Nov 28 Brazil vs. Switzerland 19:00

In addition, there seems to be tickets available for other World Cup matches, so I hope to see each of the eight stadiums at which games will be held. As always, check back for recaps that will be posted after I return.

Best,

Sean


Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Nuremberg Ice Tigers 2 at Eisbären Berlin 3 (OT, Deutsche Eishockey Liga) - October 9, 2022

My final day in Germany saw me return to Mercedes-Benz Arena, this time for an afternoon hockey game featuring Eisbären Berlin, who are the defending Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) champions. After attending a basketball game here on Friday, during which I did not have enough time to tour properly, I wanted to get in early and was happy to see that gates opened 90 minutes before puck drop. After wandering around the outdoor plaza (below) for a bit, I picked up the cheapest ticket (17 euros) at the box office and walked in, with security much less strict than on Friday.

The large atrium inside the main entrance was fairly empty at this early hour, and had a big chair for photo opportunities if you so desired.

I made my way up to the main concourse and into the rink, which was nicely lit for occasion. Both sides of the upper deck were open and I expected attendance to exceed that of the basketball game (where much of the upper deck was closed) but in the end, there were 1,104 less on hand for hockey (10,069 vs. 11,173).

I took the escalator to the upper deck, stopping to take a picture of what appears to be a statistical breakdown of the arena. 

There is a concourse up here as well, which has its own concessions and is quite spacious and bright, at least during the day. After the concession pick-up fiasco at the basketball game, I decided to order my food directly from the register, helped by the fact that there were no lines an hour before face-off. There was a sign advertising a pork chop sandwich for 4.5 euros, so I ordered that. But in the system, it was 5 euros and the cashier tried to explain that to me in German. I stared blankly at her, trying in vain to decipher her meaning. I finally had to mutter, "English, please" and when she explained the problem, I was not bothered by the extra 50 cents the sandwich would cost. In the end, it was delicious, as was all the stadium (and restaurant) food I ate on this trip.

From the upper concourse, you can also look out at Mercedes Platz; eagle-eyed readers will notice the Five Guys mentioned in the previous post in the bottom left corner of the photo below.

My assigned seat was in section 415 in the upper corner, which isn't that far away as there is only a single level of suites between the two levels.

Looking up, you can there are 17 rows to the top of the upper deck, though with capacity at 14,200, most of these remained empty.

From near the top at center ice, you can see how much advertising dominates the ice surface; the same goes for the uniforms, which are mostly covered with sponsor logos.

The team has won eight DEL championships over the years, including the last couple, and these are commemorated with banners at one end. They also were the 2010 European Hockey Champions, though that tournament has been replaced by another continental Champions League. Because of their title last season, Berlin was in this year's tourney but was eliminated in the group stage. You can see the polar bear on the banners; Eisbären is polar bear in German and the name evokes the bear on Berlin's Coat of Arms.

There is also a special standing area known as the Fankurve and named in honour of Hartmut Nickel, who played with Eisbären's predecessor, SC Dynamo Berlin. This is essentially a supporters' section and the fans here keep chanting and singing throughout the game. It adds a bit of atmosphere that you don't see at hockey games in North America, and you can get a ticket here if you wish to experience it close up.

The team puts on a pregame show with a video celebrating their most recent title and a couple of polar bear mascots skating around while a host tries to gets fans into the mood. Finally the players emerge from the mouth of an inflatable polar bear while pyrotechnics add some colour to the proceedings. This was probably the most impressive part of the entire afternoon.

Overall, Mercedes-Benz Arena is much more suited to hockey than basketball, but this is generally true for all multi-purpose arenas that are built to host both sports. Still, I'm wondering if the atmosphere differs when Alba Berlin plays a domestic league game, or if the Eisbären host a European match. The fact that many clubs play in both domestic and international competitions is one thing that makes European sports quite interesting and I was glad to renew my acquaintance with them after nearly seven years apart.

The Game

The Ice Tigers of Nuremberg were the visitors and in the season's early going, both teams were mid-table, with the visitors at 4-0-0-4 for 12 points, while the Polar Bears were 2-1-1-4 for 9 points (unlike the NHL, 3 points are awarded for a regulation win). Zach Boychuk (14th overall in 2008 to Carolina) was the only familiar name on either roster, though both coaches had NHL experience (Serge Aubin for Berlin and Tom Rowe for Nuremberg). As soon as the face-off was taken, I realized that the game is far slower than I am used to. Of course, that is to be expected, but even then I was surprised at the lack of speed. Anyway, the first period was rather dull and finished scoreless, though it moved quickly with a 90-second "power break" replacing the three TV timeouts that the NHL uses in each period. During the intermission, I moved to a better seat at center ice and saw Nuremberg score a bit of a lucky goal when a pass to the crease was blocked by a Berlin defenseman, only for the puck to lie there for Ryan Stoa to tap home. That was the only marker in a period filled with penalties.


In the third, the Ice Tigers doubled their lead on another fluke, this time when Daniel Schmölz threw the puck at the net from behind the goal line and it went in off goalie Tobias Ancicka. It looked like the Eisbären would get shutout, but they received a little help from the referee when he called Hayden Shaw for hooking with just 2:36 to go. With Ancicka on the bench, Berlin pressed on the power play and Kevin Clark finished off a scramble to get the Eisbären off the schneid, ending Leon Hungerecker's bid for his first DEL shutout in the process. I was glad they scored as it gave me a chance to watch the home fans wave their scarves around, a tradition that I had looked forward to and almost missed.


Down 2-1 now, the Polar Bears again pulled the goalie and again put pressure on the Ice Tiger cage and again converted a chaotic scramble as Giovanni Fiore popped in the tying goal with 47 seconds left. Yay! Overtime! Like the NHL, it is a 3-on-3 affair but just over two minutes in, Berlin took a penalty. Then a few seconds into their power play, Shaw reciprocated with his second silly penalty of the game and it was back to 3-on-3. Just 14 seconds later, Fiore came in on a Nuremberg defenseman and lost control of the puck as he tried to stickhandle, but the miscue wrong-footed the D-man and the puck slid through his legs. Fiore darted around, picked up the loose puck, and backhanded it past a helpless Hungerecker to give the Eisbären the rather unexpected win. Highlights are here for those interested; did you know Loser Point is the same in German?


With my flight less than three hours away, I did not bother waiting around for any postgame ceremonies, hightailing it back to my hotel to pick up my bag and then heading to the airport. Exactly 12 hours after the game ended, I was back in NYC, having spent about 75 hours in Germany. It was not the trip that I originally planned, but this one turned out better than expected and I hope to return to Europe for more local sports in the near future.

Notes

The home team won all five games I attended on the trip. I will gladly accept donations from any European fans who would like me to help out their team.

Next Up

I'll be heading to the UAE for the final F1 race of the season and some golf, and then Qatar for a few World Cup matches. Check back for an update in a couple of months.

Best,

Sean

Monday, October 10, 2022

SG H2Ku Herrenberg 19 at Spreefuxxe Berlin 28 (2.Bundelisga Women's Handball) - October 8, 2022

Although I would miss Hertha Berlin on this trip, I still wanted to get a look at Olympiastadion, their home ground that opened in 1936 and hosted the historic Olympics that year. It lies on the western edge of Berlin and takes about half an hour on the S-Bahn (the aboveground train) from the station closest to Mercedes-Benz Arena. Before heading out, I spent quite a bit of time online searching for any sporting events in the area and I discovered a second-tier women's handball match that would start at 7:30, just one station away. Ah, sports serendipity! So off I went. Along the way, some visiting players from the handball match boarded the train, which I found surprising, but I guess at that level, team buses are not an option.

I got off the train at the Olympiastadion stop, which is about a minute away from the stadium, and walked over to take a couple of pictures. It is quite majestic and I enjoyed seeing it without people milling about. Of course, I could not enter, but it was still a cool experience. There was even a historic marker that had pictures from the past, including one from the 1936 opening ceremonies when Hitler entered by the south gate here. It hasn't changed that much since then.

With plenty of time before the handball match, I took the train a couple of stops farther west to Stresow, where I stopped at Kaiserhof (on the left below), a jazz-themed restaurant that happened to be playing Vanilla Ice when I entered. It was a rather surreal experience beyond that contradiction. I was running low on cash, and wanted to save some for the handball game, so I asked if they accepted credit cards, which they did. I then ordered a baguette and a couple of beers and enjoyed a delicious meal under the watchful eye of the owner. But when it came time to pay, none of my three cards went through. I had no choice but to fork over some cash, leaving me with just 5 euros. I hoped that handball didn't cost that much.

I then took the train one stop back east, getting off at Pichelsberg, from where the Horst-Korber-Sportzentrum is a short stroll. On this evening, it was the home venue for the Foxes Berlin women's handball team (known as Spreefuxxe), who were hosting Herrenberg in a Bundesliga 2 match. Yes, the second level of women's handball in Germany was the only event I could find on Saturday night in Berlin. I reached the door and of course, at this level, credit cards are not taken. The adult price was 11 euros, slightly more than the fiver I had in my wallet. So I resorted to begging, trying to explain what happened at the restaurant and showing the five euros. When I mentioned that I came from New York, the ticket lady sighed theatrically before saying OK and handing me a kid's ticket (below), which was exactly 5 euros. Yay! Thank you anonymous ticket lady and sorry that I gave another bad impression of American tourists in Germany (rather amusing since I am Canadian).

I was attendee number 126 on the evening, which gives you an idea of how few follow the sport at this level. Mostly friends and family from what I could tell, much like low-level women's sports back stateside, though that is slowly changing.

The gym is really a public use facility, with the doors looking pretty cool when the benches are folded up.  

Having seen handball a couple of days prior, I had an idea of what I was watching and it didn't take long to realize that the home team was superior. They were up 4-1 quickly and 11-6 before a run of three goals for the visitors made things close at halftime.

But that didn't last long as Berlin scored 8 of the first 10 markers in the second half and coasted the rest of the way, winning 28-19. The match started at 7:30 and ended before 9, making handball the fastest sport I have seen and worth attending just for that reason.

Notes

Fortunately, my lack of cash did not affect me on the following day, as my cards were again usable.

This was my 960th venue lifetime and certainly one of the most memorable. I expect to hit 1,000 sometime next year and am saving that for a special visit, if everything works out.

Best,

Sean





Sunday, October 9, 2022

Tennis Borussia 1 at BFC Dynamo 4 (Regionalliga Nordost) - October 8, 2022

When I initially considered this trip to Germany, I had seen that Hertha Berlin would be home on Saturday. But if I had done just a little bit more research, I would have seen that their opponent, SC Freiburg, was participating in the Europa League and would play on Thursday, necessitating that their match against Hertha would be moved to Sunday. So I had a free Saturday and spent some time looking at other sporting options in Berlin. Like most European nations, Germany has several levels of pro soccer and I discovered that a fourth-tier club had a home game just 30 minutes from my hotel. Moreover, the venue was an old East German ground that was opened in 1959, the sort of place that I always enjoy visiting. Certainly not as historic as Hertha's Olympiastadion (though I did get there later), but still worth a visit.

I took a couple of trams to reach Sandinostrasse, where the Sportforum Hohenschönhausen is located. This is a collection of 35 sports facilities that includes the football stadium that is the home ground of Berliner Fussball Club Dynamo, commonly referred to as BFC Dynamo. The club was established in 1966 (the best year in which to be established) and was one of the top teams in East German football, winning 10 consecutive league titles between 1979 and 1988. In those days, East German teams participated in European competition, and BFC made the quarterfinals of the European Cup (the predecessor to the Champions League) twice, losing on aggregate both times, to eventual winners Nottingham Forest in 1980 and runners-up Roma in 1984. After reunification, the club has moved between the third and fifth level in German soccer and are currently defending champions of the Regionalliga Nordost, one of five fourth-tier leagues in the country. They lost the promotion playoffs to third-tier Oldenburg, so remain in this league for another season.

Disembarking from the tram, I followed the crowd, past a relatively large contingent of police, picking up a general admission ticket for 15 euros. There have been hooligan incidents in the past and with the visitors Tennis Borussia also from Berlin, perhaps there was some concern of violence, but I didn't notice anything worrisome. Note the claret ticket above; this is one of the main colours of the team and I was fortunate to have a Stadium Journey hat in just that shade that allowed me to fit in.

After being frisked upon entry, I made my way around to the GA section. Along the way, I stopped to take a picture from behind one of the nets to give you an idea of the entire structure. The word stadium here is a bit much, this is really just a ground with a few seats along one side. It was opened in 1959, and the team has played elsewhere on occasion, returning here just last season after six campaigns at Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark.

The general admission area is really just a large cement block with rows for standing, with bars every couple of rows that you can rest on. This is certainly one of the most basic venues I have visited and I enjoyed it immensely.

Across the way is the VIP tribune, where you get actual seats, though even there most fans preferred to stand. No idea how much tickets were to sit there.

There were some visiting fans in the end zone at the far end of the stadium, next to the very simple scoreboard. They had not shown up when I took the picture above.

A beer stand is just behind the GA section, while another was down on the grass below along with a BBQ stand selling fresh brats and burgers for 3 and 4 euros respectively. Very good as you would expect in Germany.

I had arrived quite early and bided my time as fans slowly joined. By the time the match kicked off, there were over 1.400 on hand and they added quite a bit to the atmosphere. The crowd was definitely a bit rougher than what I had seen in Magdeburg and at the basketball the day before, but they were not in any way causing trouble. In the end, I was quite happy to see an event at this unique venue and I got a match that was rather entertaining.

The Game

Tennis Borussia was formed in 1902 as a tennis and ping-pong club and the name still applies to their soccer club over a century later (Borussia is the Latinized form of Prussia). They came in at the bottom of the table in the league with a single draw from 7 matches, while BFC wasn't much higher with just 6 points.

The home side got off to a flying start when Andreas Pollasch drilled a shot from 30 yards out that hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced in for a surprising and spectacular goal in the 9th minute. I haven't seen a lot of soccer in my time, but this was one of the best goals I have witnessed. You can see it in the highlights at around 35 seconds. A few minutes later, a long pass off a midfield throw-in found Amar Sujic behind a napping Borussia defense and he passed to Christian Beck who tapped home to double the lead. In the 27th minute, a seemingly harmless pass into the box was tipped home by Chris Reher to make it 3-0, and just four minutes later Beck added his second on a header off a cross. Four goals in 31 minutes! Glad I didn't show up late.

The second half was rather mundane by comparison, though Borussia did manage a goal midway through to avoid the shutout. There's the final below, with a few of the visiting supporters trying to ignore it as best they could. Who says German is hard to learn? Heim and Gast are pretty obvious, I think. Also, note the ladder next to the scoreboard; this was used by the operator to reach the platform and change the score after every goal. Oh, and if you are looking for the game clock, there isn't one, other than the watch on the referee's wrist.

In the end, this was a very memorable afternoon. The quality of soccer wasn't bad at all, probably more possession oriented than even that in MLS, though obviously one match is not enough to tell. Who knows, with these cheap flights to Berlin, I might be back to watch more.

Best,

Sean


Saturday, October 8, 2022

Partizan Belgrad 84 at Alba Berlin 100 (EuroLeague, Round 1) - October 7, 2022

After a night in Magdeburg, I returned to Berlin on Friday afternoon, making my way to my hotel next to the Mercedes-Benz Arena. When I first planned the trip, I expected to be taking a train to Prague to watch some NHL, but when I checked ticket prices ($240!), I decided to stay in Germany. Fortunately, the scheduling gods had smiled on me, with a EuroLeague basketball match featuring Alba Berlin set for Friday evening. Alba plays at the same venue at which I would be watching a Germany hockey game on Sunday, so staying in the area was an obvious choice.

The arena is on the east side of the Spree River and near the East Side Gallery, a section of the Berlin Wall that has been painted over by artists. The venue is the main tenant on Mercedes Platz, a plaza area that is surrounded by restaurants, including Five Guys. The picture above is taken from the front of the plaza.

MBA was opened in 2008 and was named O2 World Berlin until the automaker purchased the naming rights in 2015. Capacity is 14,500 for hoops and 300 less for hockey, though concerts are its biggest draw, with many famous names playing here over the years. The box office is located just to the right of the main entrance, and there were people with extra tickets here before the game. I got a lower deck seat for just 10 euros, and was happy with that.

Gates opened an hour before tip and there were lines well before that, so I went to a local establishment and enjoyed a pregame beverage or two while the lines cleared up. Except that when I came out 40 minutes before tip, the lines hadn't moved much. Turns out security here was tighter than a typical New York venue and it was slow going, possibly because the visiting team was from Serbia and had brought along plenty of their supporters. It took about 15 minutes to get in, so I didn't have much time to tour. Upon entering, you are in an atrium (above), from where escalators or stairs take you to the main concourse.

I went to my seat (view above) and dropped my jacket before embarking upon a quick circuit of the main concourse, which was rather odd. Along one side, it was very crowded, but on the other side, it was mostly empty (below). This is because there are suites here; as well, the upper deck along this side was blocked off. Furthermore, visiting fans from Serbia were being restricted to just two sections next to here, so there was no reason for the typical fan to be on the concourse. In fact, you could not complete the entire concourse because the area behind the visiting fans section was blocked off.

I did managed to sneak in at midcourt to take a picture; the upper deck across the court is blocked by a curtain. The green on the seats are signs that are to be folded to create noisemakers. Note the octagonal scoreboard that was a bit smaller than I expected given the opulence on display elsewhere.

As mentioned, the arena has hosted a lot of events, and there are photos of some of the main ones along the concourse. Most notable for me was the NHL game between Buffalo and Los Angeles, held 11 years ago. The Sabres won the game, but the Kings won the Stanley Cup that season.

Alba Berlin has had much success since they were founded in 1991 and there are banners commemorating these achievements, which include 11 German league titles, though they have never advanced past the Top 16 in the EuroLeague. The German phrase translates to "With Heart and Soul" if you are curious.

With a few minutes to go before tip I decided to get some food. The arena has an app that allows you to order online and pickup at a designated spot. With concession lines long and moving slowly, I decided to try the app, ordering a currywurst, fries, and beer combo for 11 euros. I then went to the pickup lane, only to be told that it wasn't the pickup lane and I had to line up one lane over. What happened to German efficiency? To make matters worse, that pickup lane was also an ordering lane, and there were very slow people in front of me. I wasn't the only angry fan; several others were berating the hapless clerk about the incorrect signage while he just shrugged his shoulders. By the time I got my food, the game had started and I rushed to my seat. I hadn't missed much, and settled in to watch what turned out to be a rather pedestrian affair.

The Game

This was the first round of the EuroLeague (the equivalent of Champions League for basketball). There are 18 teams participating in a complete home and away round robin (34 games in other words). Three names stood out for me: Dante Exum, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft had signed with Partizan after a year in Barcelona, while Berlin boasted both Luke Sikma (son of Hall-of-Famer Jack) and Maodo Lô (#0 shooting from the line below), who I had seen several times during his college career at Columbia.

It was 16-16 midway through the first quarter when Berlin took control, ending the frame on a 17-2 run. And that 15-point difference was more or less maintained the rest of the way. Partizan got within 10 at one point but could not make it closer, although their fans did not lose their enthusiasm, as you can see below.

As time ticked down, the only question was whether Berlin could reach the century mark, and Lô answered with a last-second trey that made the final 100-84. Exum led all scorers with 22 points while Lô finished with 11 on 4/13 shooting. All in all, not a particularly memorable game but still interesting to see some players making their way in Europe.

Notes

This was my second EuroLeague match after I saw Barcelona nearly ten years ago in a game in which they also finished with exactly 100 points.

Best,

Sean


Friday, October 7, 2022

Wisla Plock 27 at SC Magdeburg 33 (EHF Champions League) - October 6, 2022

Back in July, two news items came out around the same time that got me to thinking about a trip to Germany. The first was that my cousin's kid, Brendan Guhle, had signed with a hockey team in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) after a few seasons in the Sabres and Ducks organizations. The second was that Norse Atlantic Airways, a new low-cost carrier, would be flying directly to Berlin for less than $400 round trip. So I had a quick look at schedules and saw that the NHL would be holding their season-opening series between Nashville and San Jose in nearby Prague, while Hertha Berlin would be home that weekend too. So I booked the flight and then went about my August, which was rather busy. When things settled down in September, I started to look into the details for this trip and found that the NHL game was severely overpriced ($240 to get in), while Hertha was moved to the Sunday evening, the same time I would be flying home. Fortunately, Germany has plenty of other sports and so I set about scouring the internet to see what I could find.

I would arrive on in Berlin on Thursday around 2 p.m. and had initially hoped that Union Berlin would have their Europa League match at home that night, but the draw was unkind and they were away to Malmo. So I spent hours online looking at various sports sites until I came across one that included handball and found that SC Magdeburg had a Champions League match at 6:45. A quick search revealed that Magdeburg is about 2 hours away from Berlin, so I booked a hotel there and hoped that everything would work out. The flight arrived quite early, but we had to be bussed to the terminal, and then immigration was rather slow. I had downloaded the Deutsche Bahn app, which made it easy to book a train to Magdeburg, but there were two changes, so I didn't get to my hotel until 6, just 45 minutes before the game was scheduled to start. I dropped my bag off and then decided to walk the 30 minutes to GETEC Arena, home of SC Magdeburg. 

Of course, the route that Google suggested was under massive construction and required a rather lengthy detour, but by following the cars making the same detour, I was soon back on the right path, though delayed slightly. I arrived at the stadium right at 6:45, noticing that the two pop-up bars were devoid of customers, suggesting that there would be no pregame ceremonies here.

I encountered one final problem at the box office when they said it was cash only as I presented my card. Thankfully, I had brought some leftover euros from a previous trip and bought a ticket, entering the venue (no security check of course) just as proceedings were getting underway.

This was my first handball game and I really didn't know what to expect. For those who have not seen the sport, it combines the back-and-forth possessions of basketball on a rectangular playing surface, with goalies guarding nets that are larger than those in hockey. There are two halves of 30 minutes each and few stoppages. Six attacking players pass the ball up to six times, after which they must take a shot, most of which end up in the net. Goalies are at a distinct disadvantage, saving well under 50% of the shots they face. As you can see above, it was 1-1 after just a minute and this pace continued well into the first half.

The stadium seemed quite full, though seats could be found in the corners and behind the net. Concessions were in each corner, allowing for fans to line up without impeding those wandering about. Prices were very cheap when compared to the gouging that goes on at stadiums here in the States: beer was $5 for a pint and brats and other food was around $3. By the way, the Euro is just about equivalent to a buck at this time, which made converting prices pretty easy.

I stood behind one of the nets for a while, waiting in vain for a stoppage. But this game stops rarely, and when it does, it is only for a brief moment. There are no TV timeouts, and each team gets three timeouts over the course of the match. When one of these was called, I made my way down to my seat, facing the goal that the home team was attacking for the first half (view below).

These were benches, but the seats above are unlike anything I had seen before. Blue metal with a space between the back and what seemed to be a headrest. Not sure how comfortable these would be, but with games so quick, it probably doesn't matter.

After the match, I waited around for fans to clear and then took a picture of the empty arena. GETEC Arena holds 7,800 for handball and attendance was just over half that at 3,935. A small, intimate venue that I was happy to visit.

In the end, this was an exhilarating if somewhat stressful experience. It took 15 hours to get from my apartment in NYC to the arena and although I had a few hiccups along the way, I got there on time and was overjoyed to witness this match. I hope that I have more opportunities to get overseas for sports trips; this was my first such journey since 2015.

The Game

Wisla Plock from Poland were the visitors in this Group Stage matchup, and from what I could tell, they were underdogs. The two teams had met in the semifinals of the 2020-21 EHF European League (one tier below the Champions League), with Magdeburg prevailing 30-29 on their way to the title. The first few minutes saw goal after goal, and just 12 minutes in it was 8-8. Then Magdeburg pulled their keeper, who had yet to make a save, and brought in Mike Jensen, a 6'9 Dane who is the club's #1 goalie (below). This didn't change things much, as the goals continued to be poured in at a rapid rate, with the home team leading 17-16 at the half.

Early in the second half, however, Jensen showed his worth, making about six spectacular stops (most stops in handball are of the spectacular variety) in the first ten minutes. His counterpart was unable to match his goal prevention prowess and Magdeburg took a 27-19 lead, which was unassailable, given the difference in quality guarding the nets.

The last 20 minutes were academic as Magdeburg held on for a 33-27 win. They scored on three of four penalty shots, while the visitors managed to pot their only attempt. The 60 total goals were scored on just 87 shots, so Jensen's 11 total saves on just 29 shots is all the more remarkable. The entire match took just 90 minutes, including the 15-minute halftime. So 60 minutes of action took just 75 minutes. What a refreshing change from American sports, where so much time is wasted for television.

At the time, I thought that this would be the only handball game that I would ever attend, but a few days later, I happened upon another. More on that in a later post.

Notes

If you want to follow the Champions League, Wikipedia has you covered.

Best,

Sean