Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Ghost of Christmas Past...

Me at Christmas, somewhere around 1987:

Friday, December 14, 2007

The X Man is 4 today.

Happy Birthday little man...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The greatest moment in music history...

...just might be the last stanza of Luciano Pavarotti's "Nessun Dorma" when he hits the high note and the orchestra comes to a crescendo. I listen to it almost everyday and every time that part comes on I get goosebumps and (if I'm not driving) I always close my eyes and let the combination of Pavarotti's powerful voice, followed by the driving emotion of the accompanying orchestra take me to a higher place, if only for a brief moment.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Grammy's Visits the X Man

Last week we were fortunate to have a visit from my mother, the X Man's Grammy. She was here for a week and her and the X Man were inseparable during her stay. Despite the freezing cold weather, we were also able to show her a little bit of Germany while she was here. Here are some pics from her visit (click on image to enlarge)...

The X Man greets Grammy as she gets off the plane:

Grammy and the X Man make a Gingerbread one point I walked into the kitchen and the X Man exclaimed "Daddy I'm having so much fun!!!":

We took Grammy to Rothenburg ob Tauber, a quaint little Medieval town where she learned how they punished people back in the middle ages:

We were fortunate to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with Grammy:

We normally don't put up our tree until December 1st but we made an exception this year so Grammy could decorate the tree with the X Man:

Grammy couldn't get enough of the X Man. She kept saying she was going to take him home in her suitcase. I'm pretty sure he would have gone too:

Alas, it was time to bring Grammy to the airport and say goodbye:

Come back and visit us soon Grammy, we miss you!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving...Sports Edition.

What I'm thankful for this year...

* I'm thankful for another World Series win by the Red Sox. You spend your entire life living through heartbreak after heartbreak, wondering if you will ever witness the Sox win a World Series, then suddenly they win two of them in 4 years. Which brings me to...

* I'm thankful for John Henry, Larry Luchino and Tom Werner. They have done the impossible since buying the Red Sox a few years back; they've somehow managed to cultivate a winning mentality in Red Sox Nation without laying waste to the traditions and history. Fenway Park for example - while previous owners have cried that they needed to tear it down and build a state of the art stadium to compete, the new owners simply tweaked it, added seats over the Green Monster, and continued to develop new revenue streams in other places. The fact that Red Sox are on the verge of a mini dynasty if they win it all again next year...well, all of Red Sox Nation has a lot to be thankful for. Speaking of which...

* I'm thankful for young players such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz. They are so fun to watch and they give us hope that the Sox will compete for years to come. They are one half of what makes the Sox such a great team - a good blend of young studs and seasoned veterans. And speaking of seasoned veterans...

* I'm thankful that the Red Sox have re-signed my current favorite player, Mike Lowell and one of my all-time favorite players, Curt Schilling. And that they did not make a play for Alex Rodriguez (AKA, "The Cooler"). Things are good in the Nation right now, the last thing we needed was the constant controversy that "Gay-Rod" would have brought. And speaking of controversy...

* I'm thankful for the 2007 New England Patriots. For the new guys like Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth. For the old guard, guys like Bruschi, Vrabel, Brady, Faulk and Harrison. The Patriots were so bad for so long that watching what this year's team is doing doesn't seem real. It's like I'm playing the season on Tecmobowl or something. We're witnessing history. I don't give a damn that the rest of the NFL hates the Pats; I couldn't be more thankful to be a fan and it's all because of one man. Which reminds me...

* I'm thankful for Bill Belichick. I don't care that he got caught doing something that plenty of other teams have been doing for years. I don't care that he dislikes and distrusts the media. What I care about is the way he has molded the Patriots into a juggernaut. How he has won three Superbowls and is on pace for a fourth. How, when many of us couldn't see it at the time, he realized that replacing a pro bowl QB with a sixth round draft pick that nobody had heard of was the right thing to do. How he is able to pluck supposedly "washed up" players off the scrap heap and turn them into valuable cogs in the Patriots Machine. How he has built a team that top tier free agents are actually willing to take less money to join. How he has created a system and atmosphere that can turn malcontents into team players and model citizens. Take your spygate and shove it up your culo...I wouldn't trade BB for anything. He's given Boston fans our first dynasty since the great Celtics teams of the 80's. Speaking of whom...

* I'm so thankful that the Celtics have finally become fun to watch again. I'm thankful for the new "Big 3" of course but I'm equally thankful for the "other guys" who are providing legitimate hope of a 17th banner; Posey, House, Perkins, Allen, Rondo, Pollard, Big Baby Davis...and yes, even Brian Scalabrine. It's a shame that all the focus and credit for the C's hot start has been given to Pierce, Garnett and Allen but I am extremely thankful for the role players as well as their play has been impressive. I don't want this season to ever end! And speaking of seasons ending...

* I'm thankful that Notre Dame's season will soon mercifully be over. I don't think I've ever seen a worse college football team in my life than this year's edition of the not-so-Fighting Irish. I'm thankful that it will all soon be over and we can start looking to the future.

* I'm thankful that my beloved Italy - the Azzuri - are World Champions and have just topped their qualifying group for Euro 2008 next year. During my 6 years in Italy I watched every single match the Azzuri played so it has been great to relish in their current success.

Overall, I am very thankful this year because - Notre Lame aside - I am in the middle of the best hot streaks that any fan has ever seen. This will probably never happen again so I'm enjoying every minute of it.

2007 is indeed a year in which a Boston sports fan has quite a bit to be thankful for. And 2008 is looking like it may be even better...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Grammy is here.

She arrived yesterday morning and the X Man has not stopped playing with her since then. He sure loves his Grammy.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

People I Miss

I started thinking about people I miss; whether they are friends and family from back home or people who I have met in my travels. Although I know I will regret this since there are bound to be people I will forget and who will think that I've snubbed them on purpose, I'm going to spend the next few minutes trying to think of people who have made their mark on my life and whom I miss considerably since I moved to Europe back in 1998.

I'll start with Pepere. The man that I admire most in this world. WW2 vet, sacrificed everything for his family regardless of the cost. I can only hope to be a fraction of the man that he is. They just don;t make men like him anymore and that's a shame.

Eric, my brother. We were born a year apart and spent much of our lives apart for various reasons. But for some strange reason, through it all, nobody understands me more than Eric does. We have a unique bond, as only brothers can have I guess.

My parents, Judy and Dick. Divorced when I was very young but I've learned many life lessons from both of them. Judy in particular, struggled her whole life but still made sure that we had everything we needed. I could never repay her for everything she has done for me in my life. Dad, aka Dick, gave me my love of the outdoors. I miss the conversations we used to have. He married a total sweetheart a few years back named Nancy. She is a wonderful lady and I really regret living so far away and not being able to spend more time getting to know her. Dick has very good taste.

Steve Lester. My love for Steve-O is well documented on this blog. Steve and I became friends in high school but it wasn't until I arrived in Germany in 1998 that our friendship really took off. Since then we have shared so much that I can honestly say he has become my best friend. It is no small thing to say that I - as well as Virginia and the X Man - look forward to his annual visits more than any other. When Steve-O is here, all is right with the world. I only wish he could visit twice a year...

Giampietro e Agnese. Our neighbors in Italy. They really became our surrogate parents during our time in Italy. They often had us often for dinner, taught us so much about Italy, and practically adopted the X Man as their own grandchild. When we finally had to say goodbye, poor Agnese bawled her eyes out and still calls us once a month to talk to the X Man. When I think of how much I miss them, my heart hurts. In some ways, I was closer to them than my own family.

Mike and Jen (Hen) Buczynski. Mike was my best friend for many years before I came to Europe back in 1998. We had so much in common and I used to spend so much time over their house that I probably should have had my own room. We hardly ever talk anymore since I've been in Europe but when we do it's like we never parted. To me, that's the true test of a friendship. Our biggest bond was always the Boston sports teams - especially the Red Sox so the past few years has been really tough since we have had to rejoice in the Sox success alone. But we always make it a point to talk on the phone whenever the Sox are in the World Series.

Dave "Slav" Broussard. Dave and I have been best friends since the 4th grade. To this day we spend hours talking about sports and this and that. Dave is unique among my friends in that he is the only American friend I have whose passion for soccer matches mine. Dave is like a brother to me. Has been since the 4th grade.

Eugene Lynn "Gino" Martin. What can I say about Gino. Those of you who follow this blog should know what he means to me. In a short time, Gino has become like a brother to me as well. If you want tot know how much Gino means to me, consider this; when I went to the States last spring, my hotel offered 60 free minutes of free calling each night anywhere in the US...I called Gino and talked sports with him almost every night for the full 60 minutes. I miss the hell out of that sonofabitch. Gino and I once had a deal in place with AFN in Vicenza to let us host a weekly on-air sports talk show. Unfortunately it never materialized, but it doesn't matter - we would have killed. Gino, I know you're reading this so let me just're the Michael Wilbon to my Tony Kornheiser.

Fausto. Those of you who read my blog regularly know of my Italian buddy, Fausto. He is awesome, a true Italian and I miss the hell out of him.

My sister Tracy. In a way, I'm sort of living Tracy's dream - living amongst the castles and fairytale cities of Europe. Growing up, we didn't get along that well but as we got older we have developed a bond and I often tell my wife how much I wish she could spend some time with us here so we could share a little bit of this place together. Tracy also has a little boy a couple months older than the X Man so it would be so perfect for them to grow up together. Unfortunately, as it is, they only see each other once a year or so.

Mark and Jane Santaw. Friends we met in Vicenza, it was almost like a match made in Heaven. For one thing, Jane is a Filipina (born and raised in the US) so her and Virginia get along swimmingly. Someone in Virginia's family is from the same town in the Philippines as someone from Jane's family but Virginia is in a bad mood as I'm writing this and doesn't want to answer my questions (must be pregnancy hormones, which means it's my fault as usual...) so I'm not sure exactly who, what, where, etc. And in a strange coincidence, Mark was actually a high school classmate of my cousin, Brent.

Steve and Tammy Lentz. My best friends during my first two years in Germany. We shared so much in such a short time. They're back in Philly now and someday I really hope to be able to go to the city of brotherly love to visit them. I'm confident that we could go years without talking and still go out for a pint and pick up like we never left. Steve and Tammy are special people.

Mike and Karen Rayfield. Sort of the Steve and Tammy of Italy for me. I was devastated when they left. I owe so much to them.

Ranger and Simonetta Pitt. Two of our best friends in Italy. Many of the people and places in Italy I came to love, I owe to Ranger (John) Pitt. I often say that were it not for him, I would not have developed the love for Italy that I have. He has such a "joie de vivre", he almost forced me to appreciate everything that Italy had to offer and I am eternally grateful.

The residents of Caldogno. Seriously, practically the entire town of Caldogno adopted us as their own. There are many people I miss there; Sylvia (Bar da Sylvia), Luca, Antonio (Pizzeria Antonio), and so many others.

Danielle and Elisa Rossato. Danielle is the owner of "The Sports Bar" in Caldogno. Elisa is his daughter. I met them during my first week living in Caldogno as they were my local bar. In my 6+ years there I probably spent more time at their bar than any other place. It was my home away from home. They treated me like part of the family and it made my time there more enjoyable than you can ever imagine. When I married Virginia and had the X Man, they both were also adopted as part of the family. To this day, it's free candy and ice cream whenever the X Man goes in there. God I miss that place.

You know...there are so many others that I know some of you are going to be offended that I forgot you. I apologize now for that but I've been writing for too long and I need a break (and a refill of my vino!) so I will end here. Besides, I doubt most of you have even bothered to read the whole thing so far, lol...anyway, if I have forgotten you, please forgive me. There are really just too many of you to remember. Until next post; onward and upward...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Don't Tase me Bro!

The X Man in his Halloween costume (click on image to enlarge):

Monday, October 29, 2007


They did it again! 2007 World Champions! I woke up the X Man at the start of the bottom half of the 9th inning so he was able to witness something that his daddy had to wait 33 years for. It was around 5 AM and he was sleeping soundly but he woke up quickly and seemed to be excited about seeing the Sox win it all. After the final out, he celebrated with me and as they were showing the players celebrating, he said "Daddy, Manny is my favorite player". Manny Ramirez is the X Man's favorite player. My little man is becoming a Red Sox fan.

Special shout out to Gino: Welcome to Red Sox Nation my friend.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

I'm back.

Just got back from 2 weeks in dreary St. Louis this afternoon. If you live in St. Louis, my apologies, but that is just not a fun town. Of course I stay at Scott Air Force Base which is about 20 minutes east of St. Louis but...well, I guess I'm just not a Midwestern kind of guy. I've said it before but I really feel like a foreigner in my own country when I go back now.

Anyway, here are some random thoughts collected from the past two weeks...

* Yesterday (26 Oct) was our five year anniversary. I arrived to Heidelberg today around 3 pm and we celebrated a day late with a fantastic dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant in town. We had cozze (mussels, which are currently in season), pasta w/ Salmon, minestrone, bruschetta w/ pomodoro and basil and a beautiful bistecca al funghi - a steak cooked medium rare (just the way I like it) covered in sauteed mushrooms and served in a brandy cream sauce. For the vino I chose the Barbera which, although pedestrian and non-threatening, complimented the bistecca nicely.

* Virginia had the first ultrasound while I was away and the doctor told her that the due date is actually around the first week of June rather than the previously prescribed 23 May. The wife's birthday is 28 May and mine is 30 June so it looks like the baby will come somewhere in between.

* My hatred of flying continues. Flying around the US probably isn't much of a problem but flying internationally? PAINFUL. If it's a straight shot, no problem however, from Frankfurt to St. Louis, you must change in either Dallas or Chicago. And when you do so, you have to first clear customs then claim your bags then recheck your bags, then go through screening again. This always takes longer than the time you have to make your connection of course so you end up on the later flight to your final destination. Then you get there late and you're exhausted and...I hate flying.

* I stayed on base this time which means I had very little to do except watch TV and work out. As a result I packed on a bit of bulk while I've been away which the wife...ahem...seems to be enjoying.

* Of course the best thing about being in the States was being able to watch the World Series at a normal hour. Now that I'm back in Europe, I will be forced to wake up at 2AM to watch, starting tonight. But, being the diehard fan that I am, I will. I'm praying the Sox finish the Rockies off in 4 so I can get some sleep...

* I was on the long leg of the flight back home today - 9 hours from Chicago to Frankfurt - and was reaching the point where I was starting to get restless and not sure if I could last the final 2 hours of the flight when lo and behold, what comes on the in-flight entertainment screen? Back to back episodes of "Cheers". After being in a strange city where I felt like a stranger, it was so nice to be in a place where everybody knows your name. It got me through the rest of the flight without a hitch.

More later...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Some final thoughts...

...before I leave for the conference. Oh yeah, in case I forgot to tell you, I'll be at a conference in St. Louis for the next two weeks and I'll have very limited online access so there will probably be no blog updates until I get back.

The wife is doing great. Her appetite is going crazy and she's eating everything in sight. At the rate she's gaining weight, I'm kind of worried that she might be having, I can't even bring myself to say that word. The X Man is getting excited as well. He keeps asking when his sister is coming out. If we end up with another boy, he's going to be quite disappointed.

Anyway, I leave for the airport in a few short hours (ugh). I'll check in when I get back in a couple weeks...GO SOX!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

We're watching "Transformers"

The wife and I are mildly entertained but the X Man is simply E-N-T-H-R-A-L-L-E-D...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

We got the due date today

In case you were wondering...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

If I played Rugby...

...I would want to be the Hooker.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"Father and Son"

With baby number two on the way, I thought it'd be nice to post a couple pics of me and the X Man...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

Leave Belichick alone!

The other night I watched that "Leave Britney Alone!" video making the rounds on the internet and I laughed so hard that I instantly declared it the funniest thing I had seen since I don't remember when.

Then I saw something even funnier. You have to see the "Leave Britney Alone" video first (just Google it if you haven't) and you have to have followed the whole Patriots "Videogate" affair to really get the humor.

But anyway, here's the link:

Leave Belichick Alone!


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Admit it Gino...

The Red Sox blow a five run lead in 8th inning to the Yankees and lose by a run.

When will you admit that there is something supernatural at work between these two teams and that NO Red Sox lead over the Yankees is ever safe? Four and a half games with two weeks left in the season? I'm afraid. I'm very afraid.

You suck.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Word About "Videogate"...

Let me say this up front: what the Patriots did was wrong. That is not in dispute here. Stealing other teams' defensive signals is definitely not something that professional sports teams should be trying to do, no matter what sport. This post is not meant to try and defend what they did.

But let's have a little perspective here please.

The outcry against the Patriots by everyone from NFL analysts to opposing coaches and players to the average football fan is, in a word, ludicrous. And in some cases, the height of hypocrisy. As usual, we can thank those hype-happy pricks at ESPN who have seemingly changed their format from all-sports to all-videogate.

Let's start with LaDanian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers. He has ripped the Patriots, calling them all cheaters and such. In his press conference this week, he went so far as to assert that the Patriots live by the motto "If you're not cheating, you're not trying". Hmm, it's funny that I don't remember LdT having a single negative thing to say last year when Shawne Merriman was suspended for steroid use. In fact, he defended him. I don't remember him saying anything negative about another teammate - Luis Castillo - who also tested positive for steroid use. Perhaps the Chargers live by the motto "If you're not doing 'roids, you're not trying"? Until you clean up your own house, do us a favor and shut the hell up LdT.

Let's talk about Terrell Davis, the former Denver Bronco who is now an NFL analyst. Terrell apparently feels that the NFL should ban the Patriots from the playoffs for two years. My what a short memory you have Terrell. When Mr. Davis played for the Broncos, they were known as the dirtiest team in the NFL. They routinely used a play known as a "chop block" which is one of the dirtiest things in pro sports. Player's careers have been ended by the Broncos' chop blocks but who cares, as long as Terrell was getting his yards, right? And did we mention that the Broncos were fined and had a third round draft pick taken away for violating the NFL salary cap rules and if I'm not mistaken, part of the reason was because they were illegally deferring payments to...Terrell Davis! I don't remember Terrell criticising his own team when they got caught cheating. So you can STFU too please Terrell, k thnx.

A common practice in the NFL is to bring in a player after he has been cut by an opposing then cutting him a few days later. They do this for one reason: to learn the signals and plays of the team he was just cut from. Once they have this knowledge, the player is let go. Is this any better than what the Patriots did?

So everybody is crucifying the Patriots now. Last year the Pats were involved in a similar incident in Green Bay which has been documented. In that incident, the same Patriot coach was asked to leave the sideline when the Packers suspected he was videotaping their defensive coaches for the purpose of stealing their signals. One may wonder why nothing was done at the time? Wonder no more - one Packer official admitted at the time that part of the reason they didn't make an issue of it was because "everyone does it". So why is it such a big issue now? I'll tell you why - because Eric Mangini is a sore loser with a big ego. Mangini used to be the Patriots defensive coordinator before leaving to take the Jets head coaching job so he knew all about how the Patriots operated because he used to be involved. After being spanked in back to back games by the Patriots, Mangini figured the only way to beat the Pats is to embarrass them. Well, you succeeded Eric. But I'm wondering why you didn't have a problem with the video taping when you were the Patriots defensive coordinator? Could it be because that's how you acquired YOUR reputation as a defensive guru which led to the Jets head coaching job? You're not innocent in all of this either. And what's more, you're probably the biggest hypocrite of all.

To all you Patriots haters and self righteous drama queens, I say this: the Patriots were wrong and should be punished but please stop all the wailing and gnashing of teeth and trying to claim that all of the Patriots' victories are tainted. This kind of thing is commonplace in the NFL and has been for years, in every era. The Patriots themselves were victims of it last year. After a game against the Miami Dolphins which they got spanked 21-0, several Dolphins defensive players openly bragged that they had stolen the Patriots offensive signals and play calls. It was a minor story for about two days then you never heard about it again. There was nobody accusing the Dolphins of being a bunch of cheaters, there was nobody calling for them to forfeit the game or be barred from the playoffs, there was no punishment or fines levied against them. So spare us the demagoguery and self righteous indignation. Give the Patriots a fine, take away a draft pick, whatever, but please...GET OVER IT.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Gino's First Post is a good one...


I do not know that much about Kevin Everett or Judy Thibodeau.

I know that Judy was a single mom relaying on prayer to get her through tough emotional and economic times and her diligence paid off as evident by the success of her children.

I know from Kevin Everett’s biography that he is a young man that will not quit. Raised in Texas by a single mother, he played football and apparently didn’t have the size, skill, or smarts to get that big Division I scholarship. Did he quit and become like you and I trading two-a-days for an 8 hour day? Nope, he enrolled in junior college only to become the second highest rated JUCO recruit in his class and got that scholarship to The University of Miami.

While at The U, he becomes the starting TE and works hard enough to get drafted in the 3rd round by the Buffalo Bills. Once again Kevin is dealt a blow that would end most careers with a knee injury in his first season. Does he quit? Nope, he works hard, comes back and becomes a critical part of the Bills’ Special Teams.

Today, Kevin Everett at 25 years of age lies in a Buffalo Medical Center with the possibility of being paralyzed for life following a “catastrophic neck injury” in last Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos. As sad as it appears, his past performances show that he will never quit fighting. He’ll do his part, and we should do ours….so say a prayer for Kevin tonight, I’m sure Judy already has.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Introducing the new "Red Sox Panic Level"

As we enter the last few weeks of the regular season with the Red Sox clinging to a five and a half game lead and the hated Yankees breathing down our necks, I've decided to follow the Homeland Security's lead and institute something akin to the terror threat level so members of Red Sox Nation know how worried we should be about the Evil Empire's chances of sticking it to us again. The "Red Sox Panic Level" will be displayed on the left and will be updated as appropriate. Here's a color guide:

All is well in the Nation = All is well in the Nation.
I have a bad feeling about this... = Is it getting hot in here?
There is a great disturbance in the Force = Here we go again...
It's a trap! = Be very afraid.
Luke...I AM YOUR FATHER! = Full fledged panic mode.

Now let's hope the Panic level never reaches the red...

Friday, September 07, 2007

I HATE fantasy sports.

I've had it. It's gone too far. They're out of control. What started out as an innocent little parlor game played by a few people is fast becoming the bane of professional sports.

I have nothing against people who play fantasy sports per se, annoying though they often can be. My rage and disgust is aimed firstly at the sports media for legitimizing "fantasy" as a veritable professional sport in itself. You can't escape it now. I certainly don't care if people want to get together and play fantasy football for example...but when I'm watching the NFL preview show on Sunday, I DAMN SURE DO NOT NEED TERRY FREAKING BRADSHAW OR CHRIS COLLINSWORTH TELLING ME WHO I SHOULD BE STARTING AS MY THIRD RUNNING BACK THAT WEEK. It used to be that you watched these shows to see analysis on which team would win the game but lately it's becoming more of a "who will have more fantasy points this week" freak show. I can't watch Baseball Tonight without having to sit through some idiotic "Fantasy Impact" crap. I can't read an issue of the Sporting News without having to skim over a half dozen pages of fantasy reports. Even our local newspaper here, the Stars and Stripes, is not immune. Going into the Major League Baseball season they neglected to run their usual baseball preview in their sports section. Instead they ran a FIVE page fantasy preview.

What really kills me are these fantasy "experts" that they have on these programs. A fantasy "expert"?! You know what a fantasy expert is? I'll tell you what it is - it's some sports wannabe (or, in most cases, never was) who probably won his fantasy baseball league 3 years in a row and then one day ESPN decided that reporting on fantasy baseball as if it were a real sport was a great way to increase viewership and revenue so they cleaned him up, threw him on the air and gave him the moniker of "fantasy expert". Now he makes a living by interrupting my Pirates-Cubs highlights to tell me such useful information as "Yadier Molina only hit 2 home runs last month so you might not want to start him on your fantasy team this week". Wow, thanks! Now I can finally sleep at night! Jerk.

Here's another thing I hate about fantasy sports; they go against everything that being a fan stands for. If you have played fantasy sports, admit it - you have cheered for someone on your fantasy team when they played your favorite sports team in real life. This is just unfathomable to me. How could I be a Red Sox fan and draft someone from the Yankees for my fantasy baseball team for example? I have a friend in the US who used to be a fantasy fanatic. He used to do this constantly. We would be watching the Patriots game and he would be cheering for some running back on the other team to score a touchdown because he had him on his fantasy team. When I told him how disgusting that was he offered the typical lame fantasy player excuse - he's cheering for the Patriots to win the game but for his player to get him some points. What kind of fan is that?! I was visiting home for the first time in about 4 years and we made plans to get together at his place to watch the Patriots game, just like old times. Except it wasn't like old times. You know why? Because he kept jumping up every 5 minutes and running upstairs to check his players' stats online. So much for sitting around and watching the game with the guys, drinking beer and high-fiving each other after every big play. I mean, if you're a Red Sox fan and you have A-Rod on your fantasy do you live with yourself?

If anyone in the sports media reads this, I implore you; PLEASE remove fantasy sports from your mainstream programming. If you must, create a separate fantasy sports network where you can debate whether Gil Meche's WHIP is low enough to warrant drafting him as a third starter in your fantasy league alllllllll day long. Publish all the fantasy sports magazines and newspapers you want. Just keep it out of the magazines and newspapers that cover REAL sports so the REAL fans don't have to be bothered with such nonsense. Hell, just look at the name - "fantasy" sports. Fantasy. Not real. Fantasy.

In fact, I've decided to coin a new phrase for anyone who plays fantasy sports. Henceforth, they will be referred to as..."Sports Trekkies". I wonder if I can copyright that...

Saturday, September 01, 2007

It's the most wonderful time of the year...sort of.

It is officially September which means we are entering my favorite time of the year. Forget Christmas, for me it's September-October. I love these two months. The weather is starting to get cool but you can still go out in t-shirts, sweatshirts and later on a sweater. Back home in New England the leaves are starting to turn, creating a canvas that no human artist could ever create:

Where I went to College

Here in Germany, September and October is fest season. Oktoberfest is the most famous but every little town has their own little beer or wine fest and they are one of the highlights of Europe. Fest season also means that Steve Lester will be visiting. I love fest season.


But forget all that. The real reason why I love September and October is because it is a virtual cornucopia of sports. The beginning of September brings with it the start of the college football season as well as the National...Football League. It also means that the "real" football (read: soccer) seasons are underway in just about every country in the world (except in the US which, for some inexplicable reason, starts its season in April). On any given weekend I can go to the pub to watch some European soccer or, if AFN is showing them, watch Notre Dame or the Patriots. The weekends are filled with previews and highlights of college and pro football. In baseball, September means pennant races and October means the World Series. October also brings the beginnings of the NBA and the NHL.

Unfortunately there are dark clouds hanging over this September 1. For one thing the Red Sox are collapsing. Less than a week ago they were up 8 games on the hated Yankees as they began a three game series. One win out of three would have given them a 7 game lead with a month to go in the season and some much needed breathing room. They were coming off a 4 game sweep of the Chicago White Sox in which they outscored the Chisox by an unheard of 46-7 and they had their top 3 pitchers lined up against the Yankees. Life was good. They were about to drive the nail in the Yankees coffin. Instead - and in typical Red Sox fashion - they get swept by the Yankees which not only cuts their lead down to 5 games but puts the Yank-me's in first place for the Wild Card. If that wasn't bad enough, they lose the first game to the Baltimore Orioles last night and have now lost 4 in a row. It's so hard to be a Red Sox fan - being a Sox fan means that even when the team is in first place you're never happy. We truly are a miserable bunch.
They make it so hard.

As painful as it is to watch the Sox get raped by the Yankees again, I woke up this morning to some news that is equally troubling to me, albeit for different reasons. One of my favorite players on the Patriots, Rodney Harrison has admitted to using human growth hormone and has been suspended 4 games by the NFL. I've always loved watching him and was ecstatic when the Pats picked him up a few years ago. I was disgusted last year when Shawn Merriman tested positive for steroids. But now it's one of our own. Harrison has been a leader on field and off, being involved in several charities and such so it's a shame that this will be a black mark on his Hall of Fame career. It also means that a Patriots season in which most experts are picking them to win it all is beginning with a huge dark cloud over it.

Severe Disappointment.

Oh well. This is the beauty of September and October - anything can happen. By the end of October, I will either be miserable because the Yankees overtook the Sox, the Pats are in last place in the division and Notre Dame are winless...or elated because the Sox are once again World Series champs, the Pats are undefeated and Notre Dame upset both Michigan and Penn St.

I love this time of year.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Rik's picks for best sports cities.

The last post got me to thinking about what cities in the US might be considered the best sports cities of all time. Though it's only my opinion, here's what I think are the best sports cities in the US, in no particular order:

BOSTON - I grew up less than an hour away from there so I'm obviously biased but I don't think anyone can argue here. Boston takes its sports very seriously as anyone familiar with the area will tell you. Combine the rabid fan base with the historical success of all four of its major sports teams and you could easily make a case that Boston is the best all-time sports city in the US.
Why it's great: The Splendid Splinter, Cy Young, Yaz, Fenway Park, Bob Cousy, Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, Red Auerbach, Johnny Most, Tom Brady, Red Sox Nation, Ray Bourque, The Beanpot, Fisk's foul pole home run, The Impossible Dream, Johhny Most, the Gah-den, Celtics' Dynasty, Patriots' Dynasty, Flutie's Miracle, Boston Marathon, the bloody sock...too many more to name.

NEW YORK - Another no-brainer. The Yankees are possibly the most recognized pro sports team in the world. The fans are also rabid. Hell, they've got two baseball teams, two football teams and two hockey teams - but their basketball team has never enjoyed much success.
Why it's great: Mantle, Ruth, Gherig, LT, Broadway Joe's guarantee, Yogi Berra, "Holy Cow!", Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, The House That Ruth Built, Willis Reed's heroics, Murderer's Row, The Amazin' Mets, Rangers vs. Islanders, Yankees' Dynasty, Madison Square Garden...also too many more to name

PHILLY - Teams from Philly haven't had much success but no true sports fan can argue that they have the craziest, most dangerous fans in the US. Philly fans have booed Santa Claus, cheered when Michael Irvin lay on the field temporarily paralyzed after a big hit, and once tried to light the Easter Bunny on fire. That is a serious sports town.
Why it's great: Rocky, Wilt Chamberlain, Joe Frazier, Dr. J, Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Connie Mack, The Big 5, The Broad Street Bullies, Kate Smith, 1980, Bobby Clarke, Chuck Bednarik, The Spectrum.

CHICAGO - Known as "the Second City", Chicago could make a case for the top spot as well. The Cubs are legendary losers, The Blackhawks are famous for having the loudest crowd in the NHL, "da Bears" are one of the oldest and most respected teams in the NFL...and then there's the Bulls and that MJ guy...
Why it's great: His Airness, Sweetness, Bobby Hull, Shoeless Joe, Ernie Banks, Dick Butkas, Bulls' Dynasty, Gale Sayers, George Halas, Harry Carey, "Let's Play Two!", 73-0, Crazy Legs, Soldier Field, Wrigley Field, Ditka.

DETROIT - The Lions notwithstanding, Detroit has certainly had its share of sports glory over the years. No sir, no lack of tradition and success here.
Why it's great: Gordie Howe, Ty Cobb, The Bad Boys, Barry Sanders, Stevie Y, Tiger Stadium, Doak Walker, Octopi, Denny Mclain wins 30, Michigan-Ohio St, Sergei Federov, Scotty Bowman, Jack Morris, Hank Greenberg, Sparky Anderson, The Roar of '84.

Now you may be asking yourself how I arrived at this cities and I'm sure there are people in several cities who are cursing me for not including them. While I don't have any specific criteria for what makes a city a great sports city, I do have certain criteria that automatically disqualify a city from being considered one the best. First on the list is that you MUST have at one team in each of the 4 major sports (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL). That automatically cancelled out several cities that might have made a good argument. Chief among these would be Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Pittsburgh is the hardest city to leave out, mostly based on the success and tremendous following of the Steelers and Pirates. LA makes a great case too due to teams like the Lakers, USC and UCLA but c'mon, a city with no NFL team could not possibly be considered one the elite. St Louis has a great baseball tradition but not much else. Atlanta never seems to care about its teams until they start winning - something they haven't done much of outside of the Braves. Dallas is interesting but, like St Louis, feature tradition in one sport only.

What sets the 5 cities above apart from other cities in the US is that they have a long and storied tradition in each of the 4 major sports, plus college sports to boot. That, combined with a passionate fan base, is what makes a great sports city.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Best sports city 2007?

The Sporting News has an interesting feature where they annually name a "Best Sports City". The Best Sports City 2007 was recently named and the winner was...Detroit. Detroit? Are you kidding me?!

Well, allow me to retort...

How in the world does a city that boasts the Lions even get considered for such an honor? If you look back at the winners over the past several years, the common thread is that the winning city produced at least one championship. Usually 2 championships from the same city in a year means an automatic bid as best sports city. And in the past year, Detroit has won championships in ANY sport. In fact, their strongest argument seems to be that the Tigers played in the World Series (where they lost to the Cardinals). Neither the Pistons or the Red Wings - despite both being number one seeds - could even get past their respective conference finals. I think a better title for Detroit would be "Most Underachieving Sports City 2007".

So who would I pick for Best Sports City 2007? The answer is simple; Gainesville, home of the University of Florida. Love them or hate them, the Gators produced national champions in the two most popular college sports, football and basketball. When was the last time that happened? Has it EVER happened? Now, normally I would not agree that a college town could be considered the best sports city, but The Sporting News included them in their rankings (at number 11 no less) so if they can include them then I can too. And let's be honest, Gainesville had a much better year than Detroit. Plus, I'd be willing to bet even money that the UF football team could probably beat the Detroit Lions...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Rik and Gino Sports Show...

We are fast approaching my absolute time of the year; autumn. The reason autumn is my favorite time of the year is mostly centered around the sports world. Baseball is winding down and the Red Sox are usually in the middle of their annual end of season slide. College football and the NFL get underway. Soccer season (in Europe) gets started. The NBA and the NHL get started. Yes my friends, autumn is a virtual cornucopia of sports.

With this in mind I've decided to shake things up a bit and do some sports blogging for the next month or so. I'll write about whatever occurs to me at that moment but anyone is welcome to make suggestions. For those who dislike sports, take cheer, there may be a non-sports post thrown in occasionally if the opportunity presents itself. Barring that, Rik's Blog is going to an all-sports format for the next month or so.

Lastly, as an added bonus, Gino will also be participating. Expect to see him making rebuttals or counterpoints to some of my posts. I've also told him that he is welcome to submit guest entries that I will post for him and knowing Gino, he will take full advantage of the soapbox that I am providing for him but I'll warn you - he's a Philly sports fan so his posts may be a little rough around the edges!

With that in mind...this would be an ideal place to use the "Gentlemen start your engines" line but I hate NASCAR so I'll just say let's get rrrrrrrrrrready to rrrrrrumble...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Enemy.

They must be destroyed.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Addendum to the addendum to the Cinque Terra recap

This afternoon I was talking with a woman I know from Italy. She had mentioned a month or so ago that she and her husband were also headed to Cinque Terra around a week or two after us so I asked her how her trip was.

Apparently she was swimming in Monterosso (the town next to Vernazza) and got stung by a jellyfish.

So that settles it. I'm never going in the water in Cinque Terra EVER AGAIN.

Screw you Gino.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Addendum to the Cinque Terra Recap

The wife and I decided to buy a couple scuba masks so we could enjoy the fish and other scenic beauty under the water. It was extremely beautiful and we were having a ball exploring the cove in Vernazza. At one point I decided to stretch my arms and legs a bit and swim across to the other side of the cove so I started swimming. At one point for some reason I decided to stop and take a quick peek under the water hoping to see some fish or whatever. What made me stop at that particular moment, I have no idea. But man am I glad I did. I put my head under the water and sitting about 8 inches in front of my face was a big damned jellyfish.

Holy &!@#$%.

If I had not stopped and looked when I did, I would have swam face first right into that bastard. Face first into a jellyfish! I flailed my arms wildly and was able to reverse thrusters rather quickly, swam back over to the rock, got out of the water, and didn't go back in the rest of the time.

The Italians have it right - the Italian word for jellyfish? "Medusa".

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Cinque Terra Recap III: The Blue Marlin

Vernazza is tiny. There are several restaurants and such but because it is so small, your nightlife options are limited to one place; The Blue Marlin.
The Blue Marlin is a Cinque Terra institution. It's run by three young Italian guys who are very popular with the ladies and who keep the place lively and fun from open til close. It functions mainly as a bar but also features a pretty good menu of snacks and small meals as well as the ubiquitous coffee and brioches for breakfast. But when the sun goes down, the Blue Marlin really comes to life. Lest there be any doubt about how hip and happening this place is, consider this: Playboy Magazine once rated it as one of the best vacation spots in the world to...ahem...get laid. They've even got the article hanging up inside on the wall. As I mentioned in the first recap, Vernazza is crawling with drunk college kids enjoying their summer break on their parents' dime so this should come as no surprise.

The bar itself isn't anything special, it's your typical bar with plenty of tables inside and outside and plenty of drinks on tap. What makes the Blue Marlin special are the guys who run it. Steff, the friendly flirt; Giuly, the ruggedly handsome, surly jokester; and Ettore, the carefree, fun-loving pretty boy who bears a resemblance to a young Brad Pitt. When these guys are manning the bar at night, it is impossible not to enjoy yourself. And if you're a cute, single girl be assured that you will receive the full "Italian" treatment. It's fun to watch these guys in action and hard not to be jealous - they're living the life most of us only wish we had. The drinks are also very good. Usually a bar that caters to tourists will water down their drinks so when I ordered a couple of mai tai's for the wife and I, I asked Giuly not to skimp on the alcohol. He gave me a sly smile and when I took my first sip, holy crap, it was the best and strongest mai tai I've ever had. Virginia couldn't even finish hers. We've been going to Vernazza for years now and we always have a good time at the Blue Marlin, enjoying drinks and striking up conversations with other tourists.

Anyway, here's a few photos from our most recent visit to the Blue Marlin (click photo to enlarge):

From L-R; Steff, me, Giuly, Ettore:

Virginia gets into the act:

Giuly and Ettore enjoying themselves as always:

The Blue Marlin has a myspace page as well. If you want to check it out, here's the link. Steff, Giuly and Ettore, if you guys are reading guys got GAME!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Cinque Terra Recap II: The Natural Beauty

A few shots showing a sampling of the natural beauty of Cinque Terra (click photo to enlarge):

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cinque Terra Recap 1: Vernazza

If you've followed my Italian adventures these many years then you know of my love affair with Cinque Terra. I was introduced to CT by a friend way back in 2000 and fell in love with it immediately. Back then it was relatively undiscovered and was much much much cheaper and more enjoyable than it is now. That prick (pardon my French) named Rick Steves did his best to tell everyone in the world about the hidden gem on the Ligurian Sea known as Vernazza - the second of the Cinque Terra which also happens to be our favorite. Due to his efforts, I've seen the amount of tourists steadily increase every year, along with the prices of everything under the sun. And Vernazza isn't Venice or Rome or some other big city; it's a small little fishing village that was never meant for such an influx of tourism as Mr. Steves hath wrought. When I first hiked in Cinque Terra it was free. On this trip it costs 16 Euro for the wife to hike for two days. The locals tell me that with the influx of tourists the past few years it became too difficult to maintain the cleanliness and decent state of the park which accounts for the entrance fee. Thanks Rick Steves! The worst part is that a large number of the tourists you see there now are American college students traveling on their parents' money who are there to party rather than enjoy and appreciate the history, tradition and natural beauty of the place. A few years ago the wife and I cringed as were laying on the beach and bore witness to a severely overweight drunk American college girl make a scene by running across the small beach and into the water with an inflatable mat in one hand and an open bottle of wine in the other. She then proceeded to guzzle wine straight from the bottle while floating on the mat. Thanks again Rick! Despite the crush of tourists and rising prices we still enjoy Vernazza. I've decided to break the recap down into a few different parts since I have so many pictures. Vernazza seems like a good place to start so here's the recap in photos (Click on photos to enlarge):

The arrival to Vernazza when you hike from Montorosso:

Enjoying a glass of white wine at the Ananas Bar overlooking the beach:

Stay tuned soon for the nest recap: The Natural Beauty of Cinque Terra.