Sunday, September 16, 2018

Indy Car leaves Sonona Raceway feeling like Raiders


SONOMA -- Like Oakland losing the Raiders to Los Angeles, Sonoma Raceway on Sunday bid adieu to the powerful and sleek sounds and sights of the Indy Car Racing Series, which after a 14-year run at Sears Point is moving next year to Monterey and Laguna Seca Raceway.
There was little sentimentality evident, other than "Cheers to 14 Years!" mini bottles of champagne handed out by the outstanding Sonoma Raceway media relations crew afterward in the press box.  Otherwise, there were no “Please Stay,” “Rooted In Sonoma,” or “Take The Grapes But Leave Indy To Us” protest signs or banners. No crying in overpriced craft draft beers or Bloody Mary’s. No tearful farewell kisses in Victory Lane for points champion Scott Dixon, Indy’s first five-time series winner in 56 years.
History, however, may be in the best interest of Sonoma Raceway. Sometimes best intentions turn into nightmare decisions.
The last time Sears Point lost such a big event was in December 1969 when Filmway Inc., then owners of the raceway, broke an agreement to host a free concert – dubbed the West Coast Woodstock – featuring the Rolling Stones.
Are you kidding me? The Stones, not to mention Santana, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, playing at Sears Point! Then not?
The planned concert was moved to Altamont Speedway for safety concerns and let’s just say it didn’t turn out well. It was more Helter Skelter than Woodstock West. Some Hells Angels served as security and a gun-wielding fan was stabbed to death in front of the stage where Mick Jagger was performing “Under My Thumb.” It was one of the darkest days in rock music history, yet, for Sears Point, is may have been the big one that got away and that was good.
Indy Car Racing moving from the Wine Country to the Monterey Peninsula doesn’t seem to have such dire life-or-death consequences, but Laguna Seca may be inheriting a headache. This move may make business sense for the City and County of Monterey who, in the name of tourism dollars, are banking on it and willing to take on any potential debt which Sonoma Raceway endured.
The season-ending Indy Car Series race goes bumper-to-bumper with the beginning of NFL and college football seasons and the end of the Major League Baseball season in the San Francisco Bay Area. Plus, it lands during the peak harvest season for grapes in the region, hence there are just as many people passing Highway 121 at Sears Point to wine taste than turning into Sonoma Raceway to watch a bunch of power rangers go zoom zoom.
That said, Sonoma Raceway, with some concessions, would love to have Indy Car back. Laguna Seca only has a three-year contract with Indy Car, plenty of time for reality to set in.
Remember the Raiders did in fact return from LA to Oakland. OK, now they are moving to Las Vegas but I digress.
Sonoma Raceway remains hopeful and that was obvious in its choice to be the Grand Marshall of the grand finale n Sunday. It was M.C. Hammer who in 1991 released the hit song …. wait for it … Too Legit to Quit!
Get it? Sonoma Raceway? Too Legit to Quit?
 Hammer may be a hip hop legend, but his car knowledge is legit. He once sponsored a Top Fuel dragster team named Hammertime and has a fondness for Porsche.
“I’m building cars from the ground up,” Hammer said at a pre-race press conference on Sunday. “Not with these hands but with my check book.”
Hammer, who is wealthy enough to wear a wrist watch the size of a wall clock, is also a huge Raiders fan and is part of a group led by Ronnie Lott that sought to keep the team in Oakland … the second time. He knows it’s possible for a wrong move to be made right.

Indy Car drivers see an opening, too.

"I'm definitely going to miss this place. Everyone loves to come here. This is our Indy 500 outside the Indy 500," said Sunday's race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. "I hope there is enough room on the schedule for both."

That may not be feasible. It may come to one or the other.

At some point, Sonoma Raceway will welcome Indy Car back to Sears Point. If and when it does Sonoma Raceway can proclaim, in the words of M.C. Hammer, U Can’t Touch This.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

No Sale price at Red Sox-Yankees game


The stars were aligned.
A trip to Maine for a surprise party a year in the making had been kept a secret. Everyone in our family had the time off and plane tickets and rental car were purchased long before the summer purge.  Any and all obstacles had been cleared like a presidential pardon.
And, speaking of good fortune, our beloved Red Sox conveniently opened a four-game series in Fenway Park against our hated rivals the Yankees the day after we arrived in Boston and before we departed for Maine. The perfect layover.
Furthermore, the Red Sox had announced their starting rotation post All-Star Game break and its ace pitcher Chris Sale would be scheduled to start against the Yankees at the one and only game we were able to attend! OMG!
Sweet Caroline! It all seemed so good, so good, so good.
I went online in mid-July to see ticket availability for the August 1 game. I had been searching for months and there appeared to be plenty of somewhat reasonably-priced seats remaining to accommodate three of us. I knew on StubHub it would be expensive to find seats for any Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway, yet I didn’t realize how much so until the announcement that Sale – the American League’s starting pitcher in the All-Star Game for the third year in a row – would be in line to take the mound the night we just so happened to be the park to anxious and bent on chanting “Yankees Suck.”
Well, this sucks. Suddenly, rows of seats were gobbled up and most of the remaining tickets for the August 1 showdown were for one or two seats. I needed three. So I searched frantically. I found three near the infield, but the cost was exorbitant for my budget. I wasn’t about to take out a second mortgage for dugout seats. I did find three in the grandstand, but they were obstructed view and I wasn’t going to spend a game watching Sale throw a pitch from the rubber than have to lean to my left and crank my neck around a gilder to see Sandy Leon catch it.
So my options were limited to sitting in the bleachers. It was going to be my sons first ever Red Sox-Yankees game experience at Fenway Park – like the running of the bulls with horns aimed at Aaron Boone’s team – and I was willing to pay the price for admission. Hence, when I purchased three seats in Section 37, Row 21 in the centerfield bleachers way up there somewhere in the proximity of Vermont, I only slightly winced when the bill – with “fees” – came to $341.06.
For bleacher seats.
For Red Sox-Yankees.
For the beard of Zeus.
I opened my wallet and bit my lip.
OK, I might not be in the best site-lines to watch Jackie Bradley Junior make another incredible catch in the Triangle, but at least I wouldn’t be watching the Kansas City Royals play the Sox. The dreaded Yankees were in town and given their games with the Red Sox usually border on four hours I figured that amounted to about $1 for entertainment for every minute, not counting the usual delays for replays. I’m all in.
Plus, I justified, we would see the best pitcher in baseball, Sale, mow down the Yankees and set the tone of the series. My wince-wince went to win-win. If it meant that the Red Sox would likely be guaranteed to beat the Yankees in my sons’ first-ever Red Sox-Yankees playoff atmosphere-like experience I would gladly pay the price to sing Dirty Water with them once Craig Kimbrel closed out the game and Boston added another game to its lead over the Evil Empire in the AL East standings.
It all seemed so good, so good, so good.
Not so good.
Two days before the game, the Red Sox suddenly announced that Sale was being put on the Disabled List with shoulder inflammation. It wasn’t that bad, the team said. He would miss only “one start.”
One start? Our start. My start!
Suddenly, one of the stars in the stars that I thought were so aligned was sidelined. A big star. The Death Star in my mind.
Instead of seeing Sale start, we got Brian Johnson, which is like expecting Santa Claus with a lights-out slider and getting a back-of-the-rotation-one-bad-outing-from-Pawtucket Grinch. The dropoff was Wile E Coyote cliff-like.

It was a flashback to a childhood dream-turned-nightmare about my first game ever in Fenway Park. I made a six-hour bus trip from Maine with Little Leaguers to Boston to see my first Red Sox game in person and we had seats in the leftfield corner near my hero, Carl Yastrzemski, the legendary leftfielder for the Red Sox.
It all seemed so good, so good, so good. I walked from the Fens past the brick exterior into Fenway Park and came up through a dark tunnel, emerging into the leftfield corner to bright sunshine and the brightest green I have ever seen. The sight of the field was spectacular – like heaven with a lawn – and I was like Ned Beatty going to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time to see his son, Rudy, play.
“This is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen.”
But there was something missing. I looked down into left field. Wait. That’s not Number 8 Carl Yastrzemski…. that’s … that’s … Floyd Robinson? Playing leftfield?! In his final year big leagues?
Where’s Yaz? What? Playing first base? That’s over there on the other side of the ballpark near Cape Cod.
You’re kidding me? Really? I drove in bus 12 hours round trip to see Floyd Robinson play the carom off the Green Monster. Floyd Robinson?
No Yaz.
And now almost 50 years to the date No Sale.
No Bucky Bleeping Dent way.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

With or without Curry, Warriors' playoff plight is dicey


Steve Kerr on Tuesday night stepped to the podium in the Media Room in the bowels of Oracle Arena and raised the roof with an update on the health of injured two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry.
It was like telling the whole world that Barack Obama is moving back into the White House’s starting lineup next month.
“I think just watching him today I’m ready to announce that he will actually play in the first round. I’ve changed my mind on that,” Kerr said.
Wait. It’s not April Fools Day yet is it? Seriously? Steph Curry, who Kerr said on Sunday would not suit up  for the first round of the NBA Playoffs, has in a Wayne’s World-like proclamation gone from “no way” to “way” 48 hours later!?
Wait. Look close. Kerr’s tongue was squarely and firmly in cheek. He was joking, people!
When it comes to injured players – and the Warriors seemingly have a Titanic-sized boatload of them -- negotiating their return to the lineup, Kerr made it clear who is judge, jury, and jumping center.
“It takes two to negotiate so there’s actually zero negotiation,” quipped Kerr, sliding tongue out of cheek. “The player might say `I’d like to play’ and I say `You’re not’ and that’s the end of it.”
Warriors fans wish differently. When it comes to the rash of injuries dogging their team, they pray that it will all end soon before the team collides with the Houston Rockets, easily the most consistent, persistent team in the NBA this season.
Hence the NBA playoffs are now but three weeks away and the plight of the defending champions is rather simple.
Clap on. Clap off.
The consensus seems to be that the Warriors – if and when healthy – can power up for the playoffs and make another run at the NBA Finals by flicking on the proverbial PG&E switch. That may be true and remains to be seen, but given the injuries and inconsistencies this season, the team could pull a collective muscle reaching for the wall.
Last night Kerr’s starting lineup  -- his 24th different starting lineup this year compared to eight his first year four years ago -- consisted of the Drab Five --  a quintet of players with a grand total of 29 NBA playoff games in their careers. The four starters currently missing from the Warriors lineup – Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green – have started 327.
Of course, Durant (incomplete ribs cartilage fracture), Thompson (fractured right thumb) and Green (cold and flu season) are expected to rejoin the starting lineup as early as this week, which will lower the collective anxiety level of Dub Nation from Game of Thrones-like to SpongeBob SquarePants.
If the Master Plan goes according to Master Plan, the Warriors will regain their rhythm without missing a beat and set the cocky Rockets, the NBA World and Charles Barkley back on their axis. Unfortunately, the odds of that happening are akin to someone in Section 220 winning the 50/50 Raffle at Oracle with one ticket.
Here is the flaw with that plan. The Warriors normal starting five has played together in only 32 games this season (with a not-awe-inspiring 22-10 record when they do) and they haven’t all started at the same time since Valentine’s Day. Furthermore, Kerr’s wobbly bench badly needs a realignment. He has not had the benefit of having his regular bench rotation in place since February 24 when the Warriors beat the Oklahoma Thunder 112-80 in Oracle and had a six-game lead over the Rockets in the Western Conference.
Entering last night’s loss against the Indiana Pacers – the team’s sixth defeat in its last nine games -- the Warriors trailed the Rockets by six games, a swing of 12 games in a matter of weeks. Stormy Daniels has had a better month than the Warriors.
Yes, the Warriors have been missing their big guns, but they have had too many bad losses lately for Bob Fitzgerald to offer an alibi. A 17-point defeat at Portland, a loss at home to Sacramento, and an awful 19-point embarrassment at Oracle at the hands of the Utah Jazz, a possible first-round playoff opponent. The Warriors can easily dismiss those losses as being out of sync, but look at the Boston Celtics the past week. Without Kyrie Irving and with guys named Yabusele, Ojeleye, Larkin, and Nader coming off the bench, the Celtics came from behind in the second half to win at Portland, at Sacramento and they play the Jazz in Salt Lake City tonight.
The Celtics, the likely No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, are more playoff ready right now than the Warriors, the likely No. 2 seed in the West. The Celtics, though shorthanded, somehow continue to grind out wins. The Warriors, meanwhile, can’t keep leads and have lost their edge. Their used to be praised for their explosiveness. Now they are being praised for their “effort.”
“Two weeks ago it felt more natural trying to give guys some rest,” Kerr said after his team blew a 15-point first-half lead to the Pacers. “It’s felt abnormal the past two weeks.”
Kerr – and Warriors fans – long for a return to normalcy when threes reign and the Dubs impose pain.
The belief is when Durant, Thompson, and Green all return to the starting lineup and Curry falls into place in the second round, the Warriors will have their ducks in a row and regain the mojo it will take to shed the Rockets and return to the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row.
The belief is the bench, once everyone returns to their accustomed roles, will provide positive reinforcements instead of defensively challenged Nick Young and the island of misfit toys.
The belief is everything’s going to be all right.
Warriors motto for the NBA playoffs this year: You better believe. Clap on.