Chicago Sun-Times
A hearty stew of offbeat sports and pop culture.

July 2008 Archives


Want to hear something depressing? Andy Roddick could
probably beat you in tennis even if he used a frying pan instead
of a racket. (Photo credit:

While we here at Sports Pros(e) don't read as much as we probably should, every now and again a book will stimulate our minds so much we have to brag to others that we have, in fact, read a book recently.

Everything's coming up a shade of Cubbie blue today as the Northsiders completed their sweep over the Brewers. With less than two months to go in the season, Cub dreams of a World Series are only going to grow increasingly more intense.

Matt Olsen, resident fantasy sports guru for the Sun-Times has compiled a portrait of 1908, the last time such a dream was realized. My, how things have changed:

Top Ten Chicago Sports

Mike Williams isn't exactly following through on the potential he showcased at USC.

As a long-suffering Detroit Lions supporter, I was excited when the hapless franchise continued their trend of drafting wide receivers with the selection of Mike Williams in the 2005 draft. I was certain that he would show the same brilliance he displayed in the 2003 season -- even after sitting out the 2004 campaign after unsuccessfully petitioning the NFL to let him enter the draft early.


LeBron James would love for you to visit his Facebook. (Courtesy of

LeBron James probably has no trouble finding friends. He's the best player in the NBA (sorry Kobe), has an impeccable sense of style and has well-connected in the entertainment industry. But King James is a man of the people. To wit: Now you can be his Facebook friend.

Well, not exactly. You can't be his online "friend", but you can join his fan club. Hey! He likes bicycling and volunteering. I like bicycling and volunteering. I feel so much closer to him now.
Finally some sort of resolution in the Manny Ramirez situation. The next time you see his dreadlocked hair taking a circuitous route to a routine fly ball, it will be in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform.

Brett Favre may have caused more anguish for Chicago sports fans than Jim Edmonds, but ... (Sun-Times file/AP)

Here's something I can't reconcile: Why would some Chicagoans so readily welcome Brett Favre to the Bears and so vehemently castigate the Cubs' move to acquire Jim Edmonds earlier this season.

Obviously, if you were to poll Cubs fans, the vast majority would admit that in retrospect, the Edmonds pickup was well worth it. Anyone who hits two homeruns in one inning against the White Sox is bound to be embraced by Cubdom -- even if he did spend most of his career tormenting the north siders as a Cardinal.

But one could make the argument that Favre has hurt the Bears to a greater degree as a Packer than Edmonds hurt the Cubs as a Cardinal.

Meet your new manager, Mr. Griffey.

Junior achievement

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Despite a remarkable career, Ken Griffey Jr. has never played in a World Series.
Sox fans hope that will change this October. (AP photo)


A lot of people, myself included, who aren't crazy about Barry Bonds being the all-time home run king like to take solace in the fact that A-Rod should eventually claim the record for himself. But whenever I hear someone go on about the inevitability of this, I have to shake my head and think of the guy who is coming to the Cell.

Erin Andrews is Google Image Search juggernaut.

Breaking news: Erin Andrews is hot. She's a beautiful, buxom blond. She has amazing legs and a million-dollar smile. We get it. Is there any way though that we can just move on from that undeniable fact?

Andrews has been on the sidelines for ESPN since 2004, but sportswriters, bloggers and average fans alike just can't seem to get used to the fact that she's an attractive woman.

There are some satisfying new developments for sports fans to
complement their breakfast burritos with this morning. (AP photo)

Normally when I wake up at 10 a.m. and scroll through the sports headlines it's mostly just a rehash of last night's headlines. Not today, though. First there's the news that noted backwards hat/home run enthusiast Ken Griffey Jr. has been dealt to the White Sox. If that wasn't a juicy enough scoop, now comes word that Brett Favre to the Bears talks are heating up. It's going to be a fun day, sports fans. A very fun day indeed.

griff.jpgLooks like the White Sox have traded for Ken Griffey Jr. in a move that, if approved by Griffey, would be so very South Siders.

Albert Belle. Bo Jackson. Roy Sievers. Gene Freese. Minnie Minoso -- the second time he came to the Sox after they traded away Norm Cash to get him.

Someone please tell me why the Sox have always been attracted to older men.

Griffey. .245 BA. 15 HR. Griffey. 38 years young.


Literally hundreds of Marlins fans are hoping the team makes a move for Manny Ramirez. (AP Photo)

The Manny Ramirez plot thickens. Word out of Miami is that a Manny to Marlins move isn't out of the question. This comes just two days after Ramirez said he'll play pretty much anywhere. Things are sort of falling apart up there in Boston this week. There's been the Ramirez soap opera, the Red Sox' inability to beat the Los Angeles Angels, and the inexplicable loss to Valdosta, Ga. in the TitleTown "contest". If only the good people of Boston had some recent happiness to look back on.

Yao Ming has some concerns about the addition of Ron Artest to the Rockets roster. (AP Photo)

Earlier today Mike Lansu addressed the news that Ron Artest was Houston-bound. Now comes word that the Yao Ming, all 89 inches of him, is a little concerned about how the addition of 'The True Warier' will affect the clubhouse.

Let's see. China said it wouldn't censor the Internet during the Olympics in Beijing. But low and behold, it sure seems like people at the Olympic Village are having a hard time accessing some Web sites. What could possibly be going on?
One of the most interesting Web sites around is Uni Watch. It's written by the sporting textile enthusiast Paul Lukas and delivers all the uniform-related minutiae anyone would ever want.

Any self-respecting Cub or Sox fan should educate themselves on the long, strange history of their favored team's uniform.

Cubs uniform history
Sox uniform history

Reminders are everywhere for Cub fans that their franchise has suffered 100 years of ineptitude. (Al Podgorski/Sun-Times)

Accounts of Cub fans becoming notably more violent than usual have sprouted up (here and here) in the past couple of days.

Cub fans getting drunk and disorderly is nothing new. Some might say it's a responsibility. But I've also noticed a few incidents in and around Wrigleyville lately that I don't remember seeing last year. Dudes yelling, shoving, taunting and generally drunkenly interacting in a way that could be viewed as negative is -- in this author's view -- on the rise commensurate with the heating up of the pennant race.

I have a theory about this: Stress.

One of the high schools in my conference during high school was well-known for being of a higher -- ahem -- economic bracket than the rest of the schools in our area. There was no greater evidence of this status than the year they installed field turf on their soccer field. This was at a time when the synthetic blend was brand new and considered extremely fancy. The athletes at our school all harbored a deep grudge against our ritzy neighbors to the east, but took minor solace in the hope that the turf would one day turn and destroy them. A study released today, however, crushes all of those vengeful dreams.
3-8 Chapman Ron Artest 3 s.jpgKing-no-more Ron Artest was all smiles while flexing at the Berto Center in 2001. (Richard A. Champman/Sun-Times)

When it comes to matters pertaining to the NBA, we here at Sports Pros(e) defer to our friend and resident night owl Mike Lansu. Unlike the real players, he promises to play tight defense even in the regular season.


Houston electronics consumers beware: Rapper NBA player Ronald William Artest Jr. is coming to Space City.

The Sacramento Kings agreed Tuesday to send forward Ron Artest to the Houston Rockets for Bobby Jackson, Donte Green and a 2009 first round draft pick.
                       Joe Mazzulla's trip to PNC Park in Pittsburgh did not go as
                       well as it usually does for opposing teams.

                       (AP Photo)

Every football season West Virginia and Pittsburgh match up a Big East rivalry game that's aptly named the 'Backyard Brawl.' So it stands to reason that a couple of Mountaineer athletes going to a Pittsburgh Pirates game last night would somehow end in fisticuffs. Looks like Bob Huggins' boys didn't disappoint.

To refresh your memory, Joe Mazzulla turned in one of the most impressive performances of this spring's NCAA tournament when he scored 13 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out 11 assists in an upset win over Duke. But, he is after all, just a man. And who among us wouldn't be driven to drink if we were forced to endure a Pirates-Rockies game?

Ryne Sandberg will be back at Wrigley Field tonight.
(AP photo)

My first baseball glove was a Rawlings that had Ryne Sandberg's facsimile autograph emblazoned right below the pocket. From the ages of 6 to 9 it served me well, scooping up countless low throws to first base. Eventually the time came to get another mitt and the once-indispensable glove was relegated to lesser role in my life.

The same thing kind of happened to the real Sandberg. For 14 years, Ryno played a mean second base, hit 282 homers and won an MVP. But eventually the time came for him to retire and take a lesser role in the organization -- as manager of the Cubs' Class A-affiliate Peoria Chiefs. Tonight he makes his triumphant? return to the Friendly Confines and will be setting up shop in the third base coach's box when Peoria faces Kane County in the first-ever minor league game at Wrigley Field.

barry.jpgBrett Favre and Michael Jordan failed to walk away from their respective sports quietly ... unlike Barry Sanders. (AP Photos)

Every time I see news story about the Brett Favre 'saga' -- as it's been dramatically dubbed by various media outlets -- my admiration for Barry Sanders only increases.

Here's a guy who really knew how to make an exit, unlike Favre and a certain childhood idol of mine.

I was plagued with a hormone-induced glandular problem that caused me to sweat uncontrollably from the armpits at age 13 when Michael Jordan retired from basketball for the first time. I sat in Ms. Bell's literature classroom on the second floor of Batavia Middle School's 8th grade wing weeping -- well, weeping and sweating -- when I heard the news. Someone wheeled in a TV so we could watch the news conference. It was traumatic.
What a pleasant surprise I received on my day off today when I took a break from some extremely important business matters to cull through my text messages to find that Mr. Koster had informed that I was wrong.

Valdosta, Georgia -- home to more high school championships than any other town in the country -- has been named ESPN's TitleTown USA

Thumbnail image for manuel.jpg

Mets GM Omar Minaya (right) is smiling because new manager Jerry
Manuel has turned his team's season around in a New York minute.
(AP Photo)

Here at Sports Pros(e) we recognize how important it is to respect our elders. That said,
we've employed the well-traveled Mike Clark to provide a real* grown-up voice to our forum. Mr. Clark has worked at various publications in the Chicagoland area for at least 27 years and can currently be found manning He says:

Big league teams have been in the forefront of the environmental movement for years, recycling players and managers like no one's business. White Sox fans fondly recall the annual summer ritual of trading for Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carl Everett, the noted amateur paleontologist.


Dwayne Wade has shaved his head for the good
of our country.

(AP Photo)

Well, it's official. The United States Olympic Basketball team will be taking home the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics next month. And they'll owe it all to Dwyane Wade and his freshly-shaved head. The 2006 NBA Finals MVP and Shaq wingman is looking to up his game by cutting down on his morning prep time.

Hey, it worked for Michael Jordan. Now if only we could convince Anderson Varejao that eliminating that mop would make him an All-Star.

As this picture shows, Manny Ramirez has no problem hitting overseas.
(AP photo)

It's been a bizarre season for Manny Ramirez -- even by the eccentric left fielder's standards. He's high-fived a fan while an opposing base-runner tagged up from second, gotten into a little dugout donnybrook with Kevin Youklis and made a phone call from inside the Green Monster during a pitching change. Now comes word that the slugger wouldn't be opposed to playing elsewhere, even if it's in Iraq.

I've often criticized Ramirez because it seems that he disrespects the game, but as time goes on the dreadlocked future Hall-of-Famer has grown on me. All of his goofy antics make it easy to forget that this guy has an amazing work ethic, has helped the Red Sox win two World Series and racked up some downright gaudy numbers. Where he'll add to these totals next season will certainly be a huge story this winter, but methinks it won't be in Beantown. Probably won't be Iraq either. Although long-term contracts for big money are popular over there.

TitleTown Slow News Day

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wh_titletown_03.jpgWhere would sports fans be without innocuous debates? Or, better yet, what would they talk about during those waning post-All-Star Weekend summer days?

That's the real issue behind ESPN's TitleTown USA contest. There's just not that much to yap about, so TitleTown becomes the network's yearly surefire way to fill a daily chunk of airtime. Thank God for Brett Favre's cheekiness, WNBA players' fightiness and -- well, I guess that's all that's really going on right now. But if it weren't for those two recent kerfuffles, we'd be stuck with TitleTown and more NASCAR blather from former Cleveland Cavs big men.

But however inane and inconsequential this contest may be, there are currently more than 21,000 passionate comments from readers stating why their city or hamlet should be No. 1.

Believe it or not, George isn't at home

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Back on the Sun-Times Full Court Press board today. Everyone loves a Samuel L. Jackson reference, right?
This feature will give you three must-clicks from the Sun-Times each morning. It will take, on average, four minutes to write: 

Of all the headaches that come with riding the 'L', a so-called controversial ad campaign certainly ranks pretty low on the list.

Let's make sure we jinx this Cubs-White Sox thing.

Something tells me there's going to be lots of comments on this story.

Sexon the City

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In early March I took the only vacation of my work career to Washington state. Between the time spent out in Olympia National Forest and climbing Mt. St. Helens, there was very little time for me to be preoccupied with sports. I deserved five days off from worrying about whether Indiana deserved an 8-seed or a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament -- after all this was vacation.

But, there is of course always the local residents volleying about the morning sports headlines over a coffee and a doughnut at the nearest greasy spoon cafe. It didn't take much seeking out and it certainly didn't take long for me to ascertain that the good people of the Pacific Northwest just didn't really care for Richie Sexson at all.

Fans of varying degrees of sports knowledge informed me that he (1) struck out an obscene amount, (2) made an equally obscene amount of money and (3) that the Sonics weren't going anywhere on their watch. Well, turns out they were right on two of three accounts.

Sexson was 6-feet-8 inches of unmet expectations. And instead of wearing out opposing pitchers, he's wearing a well-trod path between the batter's box and the dugout from all the strikeouts. That's why today's move by the New York Yankees reeks of desperation. It's almost like the most storied and revered franchise -- or so they market themselves -- has gone from having the Derek Jeteresque pick of the free agent litter to your overzealous friend from work who cruises 4 a.m. bars looking for anyone who will have him.

That, like a Richie Sexon 0-2 hack at a curveball in the dirt, is just all-around ugly.
Well, that was close.

We were treated to something special in New York as the venerable old cathedral that is Yankee Stadium refused to go quietly into the night. A game that used to be a harmless exhibition -- save for when an over-caffeinated Pete Rose ruined the career of one Ray Fosse-- took on a tenor of great importance as the night faded into early morning and the teams played a game of who wants it less. 

Bereft of any pitching in reserves, managers Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle found themselves in positions as uncomfortable as anyone probably feels around Dan Uggla right now. We teetered on the blink of a cataclysmic no-decision, a tie that would have sullied baseball's reputation so much more than the 2002 snafu. And then, graciously, Michael Young's sacrifice fly to right field scored a sliding and unabashedly Canadian Justin Morneau from third base to give the American League a 4-3 victory in 15 innings. Baseball, it seems, found a way to preserve itself yet again. 

Tonight was just another reminder that this game -- one that is truly American in orgin and resilient in nature -- will not allow itself to die. The Black Sox scandal of 1919. Rosters depleted by war during the 1940s. Institutionalized racism that robbed ballplayers the chance to play on the game's biggest stage. The strikes of 1981 and 1994. The All-Star game that didn't have a winner in Milwaukee. Sterioids. Nothing it seems can keep our American pastime from adapting in new environments and thriving in the face of adversity. 

The most important thing about tonight's close call with mayhem is that it didn't happen. We'll always remember how close it came to uncharted waters when a decision would have had to been made that would have been analyzed for decades. Seriously, what do you do when there's no one left to pitch in a game that now counts for so much? You call upon those all-knowing baseball gods to provide an answer.

"We were told the game would find a way to finish itself," National League manager Clint Hurdle said after the game, sounding very much like Dr. Ian Malcolm in 'Jurassic Park.' This type of whimsical fantasy could easily be dismissed out of hand by cynics, but after seeing the game of baseball overcome obstacle after obstacle in a dynamic world I'm not so sure he isn't on to something there. And nowhere else do the ghosts of baseball past reside so prominently than the House that Ruth built.

Whether you buy this bill of mystical goods or not and whether or not you went to bed before his installment of the mid-summer classic was decided or if you stayed to the end, these 30-some hours in New York have been an unbelievably ride. Josh Hamilton's Home Run Derby coming out party sent chills down my spine as I watched a reformed man stand on baseball's most hallowed ground and shine in a way no one ever has before. And tonight's epic marathon is certainly the most nerve-wracking All-Star game in history, replete with all the nervous energy that came with not knowing if this would be the sport's biggest black eye in years or just another tour de force of drama.

Thankfully, it was just the latter.
You got to love Ichiro. Heck, I've always supported people with one name.
The wiry, cannon-for-an-arm right fielder apparently has another skill besides the brilliant ones he showcases on the field. That's right. Public speaking.

Evidently this profanity-laced tirade works, too. Since 2001, the year Ichiro made his All-Star game debut, his American League team has won every game except for the one we don't talk about. Who knew cursing like a sailor translated directly into inside-the-park homers?

This isn't even the best Ichiro story out there. He's also the author of the one of the best quotes in sports history. When asked about facing fellow countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka last season, he offered this gem:

"I hope he arouses the fire that's dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul," he says. "I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger." 

You just don't hear that enough these days.
Come out from hiding under your tables, America. Billy Packer's 27-year reign of terror at CBS is over. But the author isn't doing any back flips over the replacement, Clark Kellogg. That in-studio show with Kellogg and Seth Davis is usually a nice segue into an afternoon nap

During the Big Ten Tournament, the author and some buddies developed the Billy Packer Drinking Game, a patent-pending event that focused on imbibing when the color commentator either contradicted himself, said something blatantly inaccurate or said something critical. This all led to very hazy second half recollections of the Michigan State-Wisconsin game.

Maybe the only positive in all of this is that it gives CBS a distinct height advantage in the paint. Kellogg's 6-7 frame complements the 6-9 Jim Nantz nicely on the low blocks.

Perhaps the moment the author will most remember Packer for was his high-five to Patrick Sparks in the 2005 NCAA Regional Final. Watch closely, that hand you see belongs to Packer.

The author hopes to one day live in a world where there are Situational Hitting Derbys. He fantasizes about watching Placido Polanco go head-to-head with Tadahito Iguchi, trading soft ground balls to the right side of the infield. In this brave new time the new phrase "Is it deep enough to score Ramirez from might could's a sac fly!!!" would emanate from an over-enthused Chris Berman as a nation-wide audience tuned in.

But, here in the present, there are only Home Run Derbys. Tonight the house that Ruth (and honest union workers) built will host the annual big-dudes-teeing-off-on-batting-practice fastballs-as-fans-assault-each-other-for practice-balls-jamboree. Now, the Derby has grown from humble beginnings to get where it is today. Check out this 1959 clip of Mickey Mantle taking on Willie Mays, back when the winner got $2,000 for their efforts. Some Manhattan-ite is going to drop that on a luxury box tonight.

Hey! Wait a minute! Some of those cut scenes seemed a little fake. Come to think of it: so did the sound effects. Aww, shucks Mick. You wouldn't pull a fast one on the ol' author would you? By the way, Seven would be a great name for a boy...or a girl...especially a girl...or a boy. Sort of like a living tribute.

Back to present day. Here's Philadelphia Phillies slugger/strikeout enthusiast Ryan Howard hitting spheres into a body of water.

The author just can't seem to get into this. He's tried. It just strikes him as one of those things that sounds like a great idea on paper but just fails to elicit any type of emotion when it's played out in real life. Really the only interesting thing is watching the longballs bounce off interesting stuff, but anyone over the age of 13 gets over that pretty quickly. Part of him wishes they could somehow revert back to the original dimensions of Yankee Stadium. How great would it be to watch ball after ball fall harmlessly short of that 490-foot marker in left center?

For the record, the author is picking Chase Utley to win, but wants to point out that we all lose if at any point a "Josh Hamilton tattooed that one" comment is made.

Sports are all about rallies.

There's the rally cap. The rally monkey. The rallying cry.

Then there are the moments where teammates, fans or an organization rally around a cause. That's exactly what some hardy souls up in Green Bay did today. Video of the rally looks (Editor's Note: this would sure be a good place to link to the video) suspiciously like it was just an excuse to tailgate in Lambeau Field's parking lot.

The most interesting thing to the author is that not every Cheesehead Dick and Jane want Favre back.

"In a poll on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Web site, 47.2 percent of fans said they wanted Favre to play for the Packers next season and 46.5 percent said he should ''retire already.'' Only 6.3 percent of the 17,000-plus fans who voted in the poll as of Sunday afternoon wanted to see Favre play for another team."

Who knew Packers fans were so into fatal attraction? If they can't have Brett, then no one can!

Bears tickets went on sale yesterday and the other author continued what has now become a 28-year tradition.

He didn't buy any.

Though he's been to Soldier Field on multiple occasions, the other author has never been there to watch his hometown football team.

When he tells people this, it elicits one of two reactions: Shocked horror from those who have and a 'ho-hum, me neither' from those who haven't.
In 2008 it wasn't for lack of trying. The other author logged on to Ticketmaster -- who, by the way, he's never considered to be a very kind master -- to purchase tickets promptly at the time they went on sale. Not sure if it was a lack of foresight or if it's just impossible to get the point driven through the other author's skull, but Bears tickets are really really ridiculously expensive -- $245 apiece were the cheapest.

The other author could, truth be told, only can afford one ticket. Unfortunately, he hates going to events where rabid fans lurk by himself.

Here's the thing the other author is having a tough time reconciling about the Bears. His love of the team is based largely on the experience he had as a five-year-old wide-eyed scamp cheering the '85 club to a 46-10 Super Bowl victory over the Patriots on January 26, 1986. The other author had the helmet, the No. 34 jersey, the punky QB shades and even an autograph from backup QB Steve Fuller. Hell, the other author still has the Super Bowl Shuffle memorized and may or may not occasionally get asked to perform it drunkenly at family gatherings. Indeed, the mid-80s were an exciting time to be alive. It was assumed in the mind of the other author that the Bears were perennial winners -- the Yankees or Celtics of the NFL.

But in reality, this is poised to be another in a long and exhausting line of rebuilding years for the Chicago Bears. Sure, there was that mildly exciting jab at the championship a couple years ago where Peyton Manning reminded the world that he's Peyton Manning and we all are not. But in the end, there's nothing to indicate that this will be anything more than another wildly yawn-inducing season.

Then again, the other author's 29th birthday's in October. Doesn't he owe it to himself to try something new, break out of his shell a bit and watch a Bears game live at Soldier Field the way any true fan would?

But $245? That's a lot of scratch for a yawn and a memory that will never come close to being five years old and believing the Bears would never let you down.

During the time it takes Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum to hurl a baseball 60' 6", said implement can reach speeds of nearly 100 mph. Not-so-giant American Idol runner-up David Archuleta can make a pop diva weep with his rendition of "Imagine."

On the surface, it would seem these guys don't share much in common other than youthful visages that belie their ages. But if you dig a bit, you'll find that the most important thing they share is the very reason we know who these boy-men are: Underachieving fathers with penchants for vicarious living. Lincecum is currently the subject of Sports Illustrated's cover story. It details the unlikely rise to (sorta) dominance of this pitcher that most scouts wrote off as undersized and mechanically unsound. 

So, how did he do it? What shaped this unlikely rise?

Apparently, there's a method to Lincecum's mechanical madness. At one point in the article, the reader learns: "In the stands Chris (Tim's dad) would sit behind home plate and flash signals to Tim, who knew exactly what to correct. If, for instance, Chris slapped his thighs, Tim knew to "sit down on my legs" through his delivery, to use the lower half of his body more." We also learn in the article that Tim's dad could throw a pitch 88 mph at age 52. Those, friends, are the statistics of a sad, sad man.

The stage-parent antics of David Archuleta's father, on the other hand, were well documented, labeling him as "creepy and overbearing." Those are good qualities for guy to possess, right? This leads me to wonder what it would be like to be really really really good at one specialized skill -- like pitching or singing. And what feelings of ineptitude and failure my father would have had to feel to force me to be really really really good at that one thing.

But it turns out my father is an amazing, accomplished musician in his own right. Sure, he taught me a thing or two on guitar, but I'm no Clapton. I know the rice and beans when it comes to a fret board and I'm OK with that. He's OK with that.

But I'll never hurl a baseball at speeds of 100 mph and I'll never be an American Idol runner up. And I'm not entirely OK with that.
My colleague has been an outspoken fan of the emergence of the Tampa Bay Rays. I agree with him in principle -- that a third-party competitor in the American League East is a good thing. But I can't help but feel a bit nostalgic for a bygone team from a bygone era that I once knew while living a life I used to live.

You see, I used to call the west coast of Florida home as a budding reporter. The Devil Puffs (as we referred to them at the time) were the only pro baseball game in town unless you wanted to trek across Alligator Alley to watch the Marlins in Miami (The Fightin' Fish!).

At least once per homestand for the three summers I lived in Sarasota, my friends and I would make the half-hour drive up to St. Petersburg to "The Trop," purchase a $5 ticket at the door and sit pretty much wherever we wanted. A few times, the Devil Puff prevailed in dramatic fashion. But mostly, they lost miserably. The stadium stayed relatively empty and we loved it -- especially on $3 beer nights.

One of our favorite rituals at the Trop was to send half of us to the third-base side and the other half to the first base side and have a conversation across the field as the game was going on. Those watching at home could make out perfectly what we were saying. Whenever an opposing pitcher came in to warm up, we would give annoyingly loud (and often high-pitched) sound effects to the ball. At one point, Francisco Cordero told us in so many words to refrain from doing that.

Though I'll always remain loyal to any team that calls the north side of Chicago home, I was, for a brief and lovely period, a proxy Devil Puff fan. They were part of the charm of living in Florida -- that, and my debilitating fear of snakes. But now I suppose that winning has removed some of the charm. The Devil Puff were always losers, but hadn't the history to be considered the lovable type. They're bona fide now. That'll change a man -- and a team for that matter. For better or worse? That's a question of character.

I did learn in the end that Florida's an interesting place -- most of it consists of sprawling towns situated in soggy places where man wasn't meant to manufacture anything. In a way, that's how I always viewed the Devil Puff -- a manufactured team in a market where a team wasn't meant to be manufactured, playing in a stadium ideal for razing. Luckily for them, winning changes everything.

Side note: Blocks from the Trop is Jack Kerouac's mother's house -- where the father of the beats lived his final, booze-soaked days. Sad and weird -- and at the same time, Very Floridian.

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