Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Texas Thanksgiving Trip!

It's been a long, boring summer for me, as work has prevented me from traveling as much as I'd like. However, the project I'm working on is finishing up in late November, so I thought I could swing a short west coast trip before Christmas. I checked out the Leafs' schedule and sure enough, they are in Anaheim on November 27th. I also noticed that they are visiting Dallas two nights before, and the American Airlines Center is one of the few NHL rinks that I have yet to visit. That Friday is part of the American Thanksgiving weekend and the Dallas Cowboys have a holiday home game the day before against the winless Miami Dolphins, who are battling Indianapolis and St. Louis for the right to draft Andrew Luck.

That Wednesday is a holiday here, which usually means air tickets are outrageously expensive. After some searching though, I found a reasonably-priced flight departing on Wednesday and returning Sunday. This opened up Saturday as a possible sports day and a quick check of college schedules showed an SMU football game would be played in Dallas. Suddenly we had the makings of a whirlwind sports road trip.

I checked the AHL schedule but there isn't a team close enough (the Texas Stars are about 3 hours south in Cedar Park). Fortunately, the Central Hockey League has four Texas-based teams and one of them is the Texas Brahmas who play just a few minutes from the airport. Amazingly they have a game that starts about an hour after my flight lands. It will be a tight squeeze, but I hope to make it. The full schedule is as follows:
Wed Nov 23  Arizona Sundogs at Texas Brahmas 7:00 (CHL)
Thu Nov 24 Miami Dolphins at Dallas Cowboys 3:15
Fri Nov 25 Toronto Maple Leafs at Dallas Stars 7:30
Sat Nov 26 Rice Owls at SMU Mustangs TBD (NCAA Football)
Sat Nov 26 Samford Bulldogs at UT Arlington Mavericks 7:00
That's it. Since the NBA is locked out, there won't be any Mavericks' games to see. Update: I might be seeing a Mavericks' game after all, just not the NBA variety. The University of Texas at Arlington Mavericks have a game on Saturday night - whether I can make it depends on what time the SMU game starts.

It's going to be a quick trip, but a lot of fun. Check back then for reports on all those games plus more. I can hardly wait!



Sunday, October 23, 2011

2012 Florida Road Trip Planned!

The Majors released the 2012 schedule about a month ago and I knew that I would be visiting Miami to see the Marlins' new stadium. When I saw that the Blue Jays would be playing there over a weekend in June, I knew that would be the linchpin of a great Florida trip, where I hoped to also see games in the 12 Florida State League parks as well as the Southern League's Jacksonville Suns and the Tampa Rays. I initially thought I would fly to Miami, but then I saw the Jays would be in Atlanta two weeks before their Marlins visit, so I added those 3 games onto the list and will fly straight there.

Next up was to find out if I could easily add the 13 other games plus some Rays' action. I don't think I've ever had a roadtrip schedule work out so perfectly - as I went from ballpark to ballpark in more or less the same order you would drive, each team had a home game on that day. Of course, the FSL is geographically concentrated, so you can choose from 2 or 3 locations but still, it was a lot of fun to have it work out so well.

Game times are mostly TBD, but there are no difficult drives on this jaunt, so it shouldn't be a problem. Without further ado, here's the schedule:
Fri Jun 8   Toronto Blue Jays at Atlanta Braves
Sat Jun 9   Toronto Blue Jays at Atlanta Braves
Sun Jun 10  Toronto Blue Jays at Atlanta Braves
Mon Jun 11  Jackson Generals at Jacksonville Suns 7:05
Tue Jun 12  Daytona Cubs at Brevard County Manatees 6:35
Wed Jun 13  Dunedin Blue Jays at Lakeland Flying Tigers
Thu Jun 14  Tampa Yankees at Clearwater Threshers
Fri Jun 15  Florida Marlins at Tampa Rays
Sat Jun 16  FSL All-Star Game at Port Charlotte
Sun Jun 17  Florida Marlins at Tampa Rays
Mon Jun 18  St. Lucie Mets at Bradenton Marauders
Tue Jun 19  Palm Beach Cardinals at Charlotte Stone Crabs
Wed Jun 20  Fort Myers Miracle at Jupiter Hammerheads
Thu Jun 21  Jupiter Hammerheads at Palm Beach Cardinals
Fri Jun 22  Toronto Blue Jays at Miami Marlins
Sat Jun 23  Toronto Blue Jays at Miami Marlins
Sun Jun 24  Toronto Blue Jays at Miami Marlins
Mon Jun 25  Daytona Cubs at St. Lucie Mets
Tue Jun 26  Tampa Yankees at Fort Myers Miracle
Wed Jun 27  Bradenton Marauders at Dunedin Blue Jays
Thu Jun 28  Brevard County Manatees at Tampa Yankees
Fri Jun 29  Dunedin Blue Jays at Daytona Cubs
June is still a very long time away, and I am planning a Prairie hockey trip for February to see the Leafs in Alberta as well as a couple of Jets games and a number of WHL contests. When that trip is set and booked, I'll post the schedule here. I'm also going to be seeing a few more events in Japan in the next month, so check back for reports on those.



Saturday, October 22, 2011

Interconference Overtime Games - Conspiracy?

I've been watching quite a bit of the NHL early in the sesaon, using the GameCenter Live package. I like to focus on interconference games when the Leafs aren't playing because those games are quite a bit rarer. Teams play only 18 out of 82 (22%) games against foes from the other conference which makes a Pittsburgh-Vancouver matchup more intriguing than another Penguins-Islanders tilt, for example.

This season, I've noticed a distinct pattern in these interconference battles - a large number of them go to overtime. Just today, the Sharks edged the Devils in a shootout while St. Louis dispatched Carolina in the extra frame. I decided to check the numbers and lo and behold, it is true. Through October 21, there have been 94 games played with 28 of those being between teams from different conferences. Of those 28 games, 14 have gone to extra time, while of the 66 intraconference matches, only 10 have seen bonus hockey. That's 50% compared to just 15%, or over 3 times as many interconference games that result in 3 points being awarded.

Obviously this is a small sample size so the significance of this is questionable. Nonetheless, it bears watching because there is a major difference between an overtime contest in which your opponent is out of conference: there is no penalty for allowing them that extra point as it won't impact you in the playoff race. When you are facing an in-conference team, an overtime game means that you only gain a point on them in the standings even if you win, so there is additional incentive to ensure that you take care of matters in regulation. However, when playing one of those 18 interconference affairs, why not allow both teams to get to overtime and then play for the extra point? There is no reason not to; the extra point given to your opponent won't haunt you come April.

Now, I am not seriously saying that this is a conspiracy, or that there is a new unwritten rule in the NHL. What I do think though is that in these games, teams are content to play for overtime as regulation time draws to a close, or perhaps teams with a 1-goal lead aren't as desperate to preserve it. When playing conference rivals though, the game is probably more intense and teams work harder to maintain the lead.

For now, as the season progresses, see if you notice any difference between your team's play when the opponent is from the opposite conference. I'll revisit this topic when the season ends and we have more statistics to either confirm or refute my theory.



Friday, October 21, 2011

Why Ties Suck in Baseball - Third Annual Edition

The Japanese baseball season is coming to a close and yet again I am forced to write a post about how ties are used stupidly in the NPB. Of course, ties should never be employed in baseball. A long extra-inning game is fun to watch as a fan, but it also hurts those teams with poor bullpen depth, forcing them to manage subsequent games differently. Having no set time is another aspect that makes baseball so intriguing and unique - the possibility that a game may last forever. Sadly, that possibility is not even on the table in Japan. I know when I reach the park, I won't be seeing any more than 10 or 12 or whatever innings limit is set that season. There are obviously some good reasons for that, particularly related to fans needing to get home on trains which stop around midnight, so I won't belabor this point any longer.

The point that I will belabor though is that ties should not be ignored in the standings. Check out the battle for 3rd place in the Pacific League:

Seibu 68-67-9 0.503703
Orix 69-68-7 0.503649

According to Yomiuri (yes, the owners of the hated Giants) "Orix had 69 wins, but its .5036 winning percentage was one-thousandth of a point behind Seibu's." Actually, the difference was 1/18,495. Note that in Japan, the winning percentage is calculated by excluding ties. Those games simply don't count in the standings. So Seibu won 68 out of 135 games, while Orix won 69 of 137. When you multiply 135x137, you get 18,495.

So Seibu are rewarded with a playoff berth despite winning fewer games than Orix. Interestingly, Seibu won more games than Softbank last year but finished second because of this same silly rule. In these cases, a 1-game playoff would be the fair and fan-friendly thing to do.

I should point out that after the earthquake, some tie games were called after 9 innings to save electricity. This resulted in a large number of ties (56 compared to 16 last year) and only two teams managed to win more than half their games. Those two squads (Chunichi and Softbank) should be facing off in the Nippon Series, instead we get two extra weeks of pedestrian teams playing. The only bright spot is that Yakult (the team I cheer for, who choked away the pennant with a dreadful finish) will be hosting those hated Giants in the first round of the playoffs and it would be wonderful if they could knock them out. (11/1 Update: Swallows won 2-1! Now they move on to face the Dragons. In the PL, Seibu swept Nippon Ham and Darvish-mania may hit MLB next year.)

Regardless of that outcome though, the fact remains that ties are ignored in the standings. This is just plain stupid and I hope the NPB finds a better way to deal with them in the future.



Sunday, October 9, 2011

Honozumo at Yasukuni Shrine

I've mentioned here a few times that I've pretty much given up on sumo for a number of reasons. But once in a while, I get dragged back into it by a friend who has yet to see it live and asks me for help in getting tickets or other advice. Most recently, a co-worker inquired about the January tournament so I went online (using lmgtfy.com) to see what was available. As I perused the options, I noticed that there was Honozumo at Yasukuni Shrine the very next day.

The Dohyo

As it was a work day, I asked for an extended lunch and a few co-workers and I took a cab over to the shrine. Yasukuni (ironically it means peaceful country) is famous throughout Asia as the place where 14 class-A war criminals are enshrined and hence is a sensitive topic among Koreans, Chinese, and others whose forebears were victims of Japan's relentless empire. There seems to be annual stories where a leading Japanese politician pays a visit to the shrine, ostensibly to honour all of Japan's war dead, but naturally the focus falls on those few whose actions brought shame to the nation and an international incident results.

Takamisakari preparing for battle

Interestingly, sumo has been through its own shameful period lately, but is slowly recovering after a particularly damning match-fixing scandal. As Honozumo is a one-day ceremonial tournament held outdoors as a gift to the gods, it felt to me like the sumo world was asking for forgiveness through this event. The gods seemed to accept this offering, as the weather couldn't have been better for this outdoor ceremony.

Tamanoshima during the dohyo-iri

Much like a jungyo tournament (these are the tours that take place between the main tournaments and offer those outside the big cities a chance to see their heroes), Honozumo has more than just sumo bouts. There are performances of jinku (sumo song), taiko drumming, and the like. All the big names are there and it attracts a good crowd despite being held on a Friday afternoon. It is free to enter and you can sit pretty much anywhere. Even arriving at noon, we had no trouble moving within a few feet of the dohyo.


We spent two hours there, catching the final bouts of Makushita, as well as those from Juryo, the Makunouchi dohyo-iri (below, with Takanoyama from the Czech Republic in the foreground), and finally Hakuho doing his own yokozuna entrance ceremony.

Bento and small bowls of chanko nabe were available as were beer and soft drinks. The event began at 9 am and finished sometime after 3 pm, making for a full day for those without the distractions of the office. Unfortunately for us, work beckoned and we missed the Makunouchi battles, but it was still an incredible afternoon. Below are three more foreign-born rikishi.

Juryo Aoiyama from Bulgaria

Ozeki Kotooshu from Bulgaria

Ozeki Baruto from Estonia

All four of my co-workers had never seen sumo live before (amazing considering three of them are Japanese) and they found it to be quite intriguing. It is definitely a great experience and if you ever have a chance, take the time to check this out. This event is held only once or twice a year so you'll have to check the sumo events page regularly to make sure you don't miss it, but if you see it listed, make a note of it and take a day off to enjoy a free display of Japan's traditional sport.



Saturday, October 1, 2011

F1 in Singapore

Last year I saw my first F1 race in Malaysia and found it to be a great experience. So when my girlfriend told me she had a business trip to Singapore the week before the F1 was to be held there, I decided to accompany her and spend some time watching cars go really fast.

Singapore is the only night race on the F1 calendar and for that reason alone, it is very popular. Most tickets were good for all 3 days of the weekend (practice is held on Friday night, practice and qualifying on Saturday, and the race on Sunday night). I only wanted to see the race, but the Sunday-only tickets were sold out in advance. Fortunately, the organizers made some walkabout tickets available on Sunday morning and I was able to pick one up after queuing for an hour at the main ticket center in the Raffles Place Convention Center.

The walkabout ticket allows you into one of four "zones" but it includes the Padang, a large park area surrounded by concessions and a stage where concerts are held, as well as the Esplanade bridge, one of the faster areas on the circuit. At S$148 (about $110), it is the cheapest option. If you want to sit, you can expect to pay twice that at a minimum, but you do get all three days for that. The pictures here are from various points in the walkabout area, where you can see plenty of great skyline views.

The track is a city circuit, which means that the cars race on normal roads. The track is set up a week in advance, which is a nightmare for local drivers, but provides chances for fans to walk around the area and figure out where the best place to watch might be.

Two views of the skyline, the above from the Padang, the below from Esplanade Bridge.

The Practice

On Friday evening, I was fortunate to find myself next to One Raffles Link, which hosts an Irish bar called Durty Nelly's. From here you can watch the cars race along Raffles Blvd until they hit turn 7, a sharp left turn that requires sudden braking and immediate acceleration off the turn. It was amazing to watch the differences in the driver skills as those at the top of the sport and with better cars were able to brake much closer to the turn, while the bottom feeders slowed down well in advance.

This is a great place to watch the practice from and it is free, and you can enjoy a real beer as well. Even better, there are some areas where there is no fence as you can see in the pictures above and below. Just don't forget your earplugs!

The Race

The race was scheduled to begin at 8:00, but you can enter the track from 3:00 and enjoy the food and entertainment on offer. There are two other races involving lesser cars and younger drivers which can be mildly interesting. Most fans ignore these though, and wander about, looking for the best place to stand or sit. There are raised viewing platforms but these become extremely crowded as the race approaches and you are forced to stay there the whole time to save your spot.

About an hour before the race, the drivers are paraded about in classic cars, waving to their fans. That's Timo Glock below, checking his twitter feed instead of basking in the cheering throng.

I stood along the Esplanade Bridge for the race, as it was a spot where there was some space. Unfortunately, it is where the cars are zooming by at around 250 kph, so good pictures with my crappy camera are difficult to get. But it is a rush to be there and just watch these machines go by for nearly 2 hours.

I had my radio earphones I had bought last year in Malaysia, and I was able to listen to the race commentary and stave off deafness. The race itself wasn't very good as Sebastian Vettel led from start to finish. Jenson Button finished only 1.7 seconds behind, but this is only because Vettel had to fight through traffic near the end. Upon completion of the race, fireworks were set off which made for an interesting sight with the Singapore Flyer in the distance.

During the race, many fans didn't bother to watch the action live, but chose to follow on the large screens scattered about (below). The atmosphere at an F1 race is unique and I can see why these fans spend the money just to be a part of it.

Overall, F1 is something that any sports fan should experience. There are races all around the world, including one in Montreal. This season has been a bit boring with Vettel's domination, but the sport itself is one of the most thrilling out there. If you've yet to visit an F1 track, put it on your to-do list.