Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Whilst I Was Away

After a 12-day gap between posts, you can be certain I have excuses (five days in Michigan w/o Internet access, weekend at home consumed with moving my grandmother out of her house) and that I have a backlog of thoughts on the sports world. So, leaving the irrelevant excuses behind, it's once again time for an always thrilling, yet occasionally disorienting potpourri post!

-Just one week after the conclusion of one of the most annoyingly over-covered sports stories I can remember (the Brett Favre un-retirement and subsequent relocation), we get the Michael Phelps epic to save us from our August doldrums. If there ever was an event that was suited for the modern 24-hour news cycle, it was Phelps' 8-for-8 roll in Beijing. Add a 12-hour time difference from the Eastern Time Zone to a grueling schedule at the truly stunning Water Cube, and the hunger for information on the 23-year-old's quest was insatiable. Beyond all that though, I am continually surprised by how much a transcendent performance at the Olympics can still captivate an enormous segment of the consuming public. I guess it's just jarring in this era of increased regional/local focus that an event halfway around the world can draw the largest time-slot viewing audience on NBC since 1990. For me, it's comforting that national pride can still be roused by Olympic excellence.

-Staying on the Olympics theme, I usually come into the summer Olympiads with low expectations. I believe this subdued attitude stems from my unfamiliarity with most of the sports and almost all of the competitors, with few exceptions. At least in the winter Games, I have the ice hockey tournament, which features a huge contingent of recognizable NHL players, to look forward to. To highlight my malaise this time around, I even skipped the Opening Ceremony to play tennis. However, I'm always quickly captivated by the both the variety and earnestness of this quadrennial athletic extravaganza. Also, the magnitude of the moments that occur during a given Olympiad are nearly impossible to ignore; when an athlete such as Phelps trains for four years in order to peak at exactly the right moment, the pressure is undeniable. All in all, it makes for a fantastic spectator experience.

-Oh, and by the way, it's pronounced Bay-Jing, not Bay-Zhing. Brian Williams has it down, do you?

-While I was in Grand Rapids this weekend, the Pirates managed to sign No. 2 overall draft pick Pedro Alvarez to a minor-league deal right at the midnight Aug. 15 deadline. I had a good feeling he was going to eventually cave to Our Buccos' proposed contact terms, simply because his family is sliding just above the poverty level (just like Jillian and I, now that I think about it) and Pedro would have put his earning potential at serious risk if he waited for next June's amateur draft. Of course, sources say that the former Vanderbilt third baseman is eager to begin his professional career and is genuinely happy to be property of the Pirates. Whatever his motivations may be, his addition to the organization is arguably the largest step the franchise could take toward making an honest commitment to building a winner. The trades involving Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte were important, natch, but forking over a $6 million signing bonus to Alvarez shows that the ownership group, led by Bob Nutting, is actually willing to take a bit of a financial hit if it makes baseball sense. That is something Pirates fans haven't seen in close to 20 years.

-While watching the Pirates-Cardinals game on FSN tonight, I am reminded of a conclusion I reached last week: Greg Brown has supplanted Lanny Frattare in my mind as the Voice of the Pirates. Yes, I know Lanny has the tenure - he's been broadcasting Bucs games for more than 30 years - but it really seems like the 15-plus years of losing have officially gotten to him. His technical skills haven't appreciably deteriorated, but his level of enthusiasm has indeed waned. I think the only game that got a rise out of him this year was the insane comeback against St. Louis just before the All-Star Break. I enjoy Lanny and respect his perspective and even commiserate with his frustration level, but as a pro broadcaster one has to put aside personal feeling to a certain point and give each game the attention it deserves. At this point, I feel Brown better represents the on-air treatment I'd like my favorite team to receive. Perhaps it's to Brown's advantage that he's never broadcast a winning Pirates club (he was hired in 1994); it's hard for him to get too down when all he knows is the underside of .500. That's not to say he's not upset by the Losing Streak; he is among the team's most frequent critics when on-field events go awry. But no matter whether he's cheering or moaning, I get the impression he actually still wants to be there every day, whereas Lanny has his good days and bad.

-I'm sure the previous paragraph would seem irrelevant to many people who aren't in the sportscasting business (or trying to be). I'm thinking in particular of my brother, who tells me he often cannot tell the difference between Lanny and Greg. *sigh* For those of you with similar issues, Lanny says "And there was noooooo doubt about it!" after Bucco victories, whereas Greg christens the moment with the Polish Prodigy-endorsed "Raise the Jolly Roger!"

-Time to get back to the Pirates (Ian Snell is actually cruising through five) and Day Twelve of the Bay-Jing Olympics. Expect a podcast before the end of the week, likely featuring Jillian once more. I've been told we have good chemistry on more than one occasion. Until next time!

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