Friday, July 27, 2007

Week 1 Recap: Really? We Just Did That

And by "that", I mean something that we haven't done in six seasons of Studio Division kickball: win our first game. And it was a good game against a good team, too - 2-1 over Nuts & Honeys. The odd part is that all the runs in the game by both teams were scored in the first inning, and there were nothing but blanks from there. Both teams had chances to score (for example, Megan was thrown out at the plate on a close play for us), but couldn't convert.

Even though our offense is a little rusty (it happens), I think our defense is in mid-season form. Honestly, I don't remember a mistake that we made the whole game, and we made several very heady plays. For example, in the first inning, Nuts & Honeys get their lead-off kicker on. The second batter kicks a ground ball to pitcher (Adam G.), who quickly gets the ball over to first (Scott P.) for the out. The runner on first decides to try and be aggressive and get to third. Which, honestly, works most of the time if the first baseman doesn't a) react immediately and b) make a strong throw.

Sucks for him, then, that Scott P. did both of those things. The runner was tagged out by about five steps, and I think it set the tone for the whole game.

Needless to say, the atmosphere at the bar was pretty electric. We've won regular season pennants and Division championships, but we'd never won our opening game, so it was nice to see all of our teammates celebrating being 1-0 versus going to our usual "well, we do this every year" card. You want to have something positive to let the new players on our team like Spitz see.

Yeah, about that...

Spitz was probably the best player on the Valley Girls, and especially when our rivalry with them was not-so-friendly, he was the most "hated" player on the team. There was especially a lot of tension between him and Scott J., since they are both oversized personalities, just in different ways. After a few seasons, some of us got to know Spitz as being the big teddy bear that he is and hearts melted, etc.

So this offseason. Spitz is leaving the Valley Girls, and during a conversation with some of us, the idea of having him join the Ninjas is hatched. And basically, it's a perfect storm of concept of execution - we need to keep it as secret as possible so we can not only blow the minds of everyone else in the Division but also our own team. Basically, five people in the kickball world know about this (Michael, Scott, Ashley, Spitz and myself), and we completely sell it to the outside world - Spitz tells everyone that he isn't playing this season (too competitive), but will come to watch games. We feign vague disinterest. We even go as far as to create a fake identity for Spitz to register under (Curt Hennig, aka Mr. Perfect) so that not even the WAKA reps will know what is happening.

Flash forward to Opening Night on Monday. All of the teams are brought onto the field to do leaguewide introductions. As defending champs (or maybe alphabetically, I don't know), we are introduced first. Spitz is sitting in the bleachers outside, having finished playing some basketball. Instead of cheering, we are silent (which Scott cryptically told the team to do). Scott says the following: "Wait, wait, this doesn't feel right. One of our players isn't out here. Spitz, do you want to get in the game."

And with that, Scott throws a t-shirt to Spitz as we walks from the bleachers to join his new team. Needless to say, minds were blown. It was spectacular. I couldn't be more thrilled at how it turned out. It was a better twist than anything M. Night Shymalayan has scripted in a long time.

My only regret is that we had some Amish-themed stuff to do that we didn't do, mainly because of the excitement of the night and the closeness of the game. Oh well, there's always next week...

Friday, July 20, 2007

Off-season hijinx

What have we been doing during the off-season?

Massive amounts of steroids, that's what.
Running underground dog fighting rings out of our backyard, that's what.
Stuff, that's what.

Several of us played on a new team in the Junction Division (Silverlake) organized by Michael, The Hobolympians. There were about a half-dozen Ninjas on the team, along with our friends from the other teams in the Studio Division (yes, we do have friends outside of the team. Even ones that aren't imaginary). We were able to take the regular season title there by a game and a half. The playoffs for Junction happened to wrap up last night, and while I won't get into details, let's just say that a No. 1 seed has yet to win a championship in any Division I've ever played in.

And oh yeah, I had a baby. Vivian Bliss Manfredi was born on June 29, weighing 6 lbs., 2 oz. She was six weeks early - I think she knew that if she waited until her planned birth date, that might mean I would have to miss some Ninja games, and that wouldn't fly with her. At birth, she's already very team-focused.

So for this season...keeping with the tradition of doing something different every season (Scary Ghost Edition, The Max Fischer Players), this year our team name official team name is the Amish Helicopter Ninjas. Why Amish? I don't know - it fit with the name, and affords us opportunities to do a lot of BS this season. For reasons of security, I can't get into most of our plans, but I will let you take a look at our suggested team outfits for this season.

First, for the gentlemen:

And now for the fair ladies:

We have some roster turnover this season, as we do almost every season. The difference is that while we've lost two players, we've lost them to other teams. Cameron has decided to join The Guy Fawkes Conservancy (the Pregnant Cheerleaders off-shoot) while Tyler is joining...the Valley Girls. Traitors. Seriously, though, I completely understand wanting to play with new people and wanting new challenges, especially after the fun I had with the Hobolympians this off-season.

That being said, in keeping with the Amish theme, both Cameron and Tyler will be shunned for the rest of their lives by our team.

Our first game is Monday night against perennial pretty good team Nuts & Honeys. Expect more announcements as the weekend progresses.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Studio "All Stars" Prove Otherwise

The game started as expected - 15 minutes late due to several Hollywood player no-shows and others "lost" on the way. The Studio Division would have been lucky to escape with a forfeit. I'm not sure what the final score was, like 9-1 - and as Brian Ching from Hollywood pointed out, that run should have been called out at first.

If anything, games like this should remind you that the game is just for fun. You can lose by 40 runs but when it's over, the pinata still comes out and we head to the bar. On the other hand, losing sucks donkey balls coated in doo-doo, with CORN!

No doubt I will be labeled as "negative" for this but really, even Roberto Benigni's character in "Life Is Beautiful" would have a tough time with this one.

The game started close - it was 0-0 before the first inning. But after Studio scored one run, it was all Hollywood. With standard pitching and catchable pop-fly kicking they still turned it into a rout. The bulk of their runs came off fly balls being dropped or simply flying over the Studio defense's heads and well placed kicks to enormous outfield gaps. While the comparison is less than polite, it reminded me of the Pregnant Cheerleader defense. As if to prove that sentence wrong, the best defensive play of the game was a fast catch-and-peg out of a sliding Hollywood player into third by a Pregnant Cheerleader.

The real fun came on offense. If we were slack-jawed yokels on defense, we looked like wide-eyed wannabe actors dazzled by the Hollywood lights (metaphorically) on offense. While Hollywood swung away, we sent timid bunts back at the pitcher. Hollywood's defense left a huge gap in left, and had their deepest players at the edge of the infield dirt as if ASKING to be scored on but we just kept gift wrapping our balls (oh yes I did).

We had probably 8 base runners in the first two innings and came away with one run. In the second inning, our fastest players didn't advance more than one base - not because of speed but because of "not getting a good jump" on a hard, skittering no-decision-necessary grounder. Other times, players would make it to base and then make a big turn to the next one to find themselves pegged out (I counted three), and one player actually wasn't familiar with "tagging up" (God bless him, nice guy and not a bad kicker). We squandered more opportunity than M.C. Hammer.

I could spin it with how fun it is to play a bonus game on a Saturday but really it unfortunately wasn't fun. Not because we lost, but because in a loss this bad, the game is a truncated experience void of the excitement of actual competition. It was a lousy blow out game; an astounding display of how badly we can all play when we really set our minds to it.

It's an interesting human trait, the difference between champs and chumps isn't just talent but a state of mind and how well they use that talent when challenged. Super Bowls in the 90s were notorious for exposing this truth. It is what it is, decent players playing a terrible game. The good news is, this could be the beginning of a tradition of cross-divisional All Star Games and for the inevitable re-match, we'll have much more detailed notes on their style of play then they'll have on us.

In the meantime, get over it bitches! It's just a game.