How to Watch Sports

If you frequent my blog on any level, you’d know that most of my posts focus on one concrete subject and involve facts surrounding that subject. The subjects are related to music, television or film entertainment, or women’s soccer because let’s be real, I don’t often write about other sports. What I want to write about this week is more subjective than usual, but it pertains to all sports and specifically watching sports.

There are two ways to watch sports: in-person or on live stream via a television or the internet. If you’ve ever been to a sporting event, you’d know the experience is much different than watching from your couch, bed, a bar, etc. Seeing a game or match play out right in front of you while taking in the sights and sounds is an experience like no other. If you’re at a team sporting event and you’re rooting for the home team, you’re probably not alone. There are most likely thousands of others cheering on the team with you. You can usually be as loud as you want. At some sporting events, they even encourage fans to scream or be loud. You might be able to do that from your home too, but it doesn’t have the same effect.

Another important difference is the view you have. On a live stream of the match you can only see what the camera sees. You might not be getting a view of all the players or the whole field. You don’t get to watch pregame warmups or post-game interactions either. That being said sometimes the camera has a great view and can offer close-ups of plays and athletes you wouldn’t be able to see from your spot in the stands. It might be why some people prefer to watch games or matches from home.

Another reason why some people might prefer to watch from home is weather. Weather conditions can have a huge impact on outdoor sports. It also impacts the spectators. It can be extremely hot or extremely cold. It can snow or rain. It can even cause delays. In outdoor sports, it’s not always a perfect day or night for a game. You have to prepare accordingly if you attend and some people just enjoy the comfort of their own home better.

There’s also the money factor, which rules a lot of things in our lives. It can be expensive to see a live sporting event, especially championships or major tournaments and that’s if you can even get tickets at face value. It can be a big factor in whether someone watches from home or not. Add in your personal schedule and then you’ve got another dilemma. Sometimes people don’t have a choice in how they watch sports.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see many live sporting events. I’ve been to football, basketball, baseball, and hockey games. I’ve attended soccer matches, a golf tournament, and a skateboarding competition. I have my fair share of preferences on the way to watch sports. Sometimes I like watching from home, but sometimes I’m caught up in a sport that I just want to experience live.

On Friday night, I attended my second NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) match. I decided to go because it was the first ever home playoff match for the team I’ve followed since the league’s inception in 2013, the Washington Spirit, and because I had available time in my schedule. I like the complex where the Spirit play. It’s a great venue to watch soccer (venue might be another reason people like to attend or not attend live sports too) and I wanted to make a trip there this season. Plus, it was a playoff match. As any sports fan knows, playoffs are the best and most exciting time of any season.

The weather last weekend was terrible throughout the mid-atlantic region. Thursday through Sunday brought tons of rain. I hate rain when I have to be out in it for an extended period of time. I was bummed when I saw what I would have to deal with at the match. Add in that the Spirit had a disappointing final two weeks of the regular season and I was wondering if I made the right call to attend the match. I already committed though so I knew I had to brave through the elements and whatever outcome the match brought.

Friday night’s semifinal match between the Washington Spirit and the Chicago Red Stars was the best soccer match I’ve ever attended in my time of being a soccer fan. It misted the entire game, but it was cool enough that I was able to comfortably wear a hoodie with a light rain jacket the whole night and stay dry. The Spirit won in extra time when Franny Ordega scored a beautiful goal that resulted from a pure team effort in the 111th minute. Most importantly I saw my favorite soccer player score a goal in-person, in front of my own eyes.

Okay, I get it. You’re thinking it’s not a rare feat to see your favorite soccer player score a goal. It is when your favorite player is a defender though. Defenders just don’t score often. When they do, doves sing, according to Becky Sauerbrunn at least. It’s not a big secret by any means, but I don’t think I’ve ever said it on here before. My favorite soccer player is Ali Krieger. She’s a defender. More specifically, she’s a right outside back for the Spirit and for the USWNT. In her national team career, she’s scored 1 goal and a pretty important PK that lead to one of the biggest surges in women’s soccer since 1999 (I didn’t even see this one on livestream). Since her career with the Spirit began in 2013, she’s scored about 1 goal per season. That’s about 4 professional goals since I started paying attention to her. Out of those 4 goals, I’ve never seen any in-person. I missed 3 of them totally because I wasn’t able to watch those matches. On the goal I did see, I didn’t even realize she was the one who scored until the replay happened. Seeing her put one in the back of the net Friday night was everything. I wasn’t even sure how the sequence was started until I saw the replay later that night (I was both watching and chatting to a friend who also attended). It was beautiful header off a ball into the box by fellow defender and CANWNT player, Shelina Zadorsky, that started from a play beginning with a corner kick taken by Krieger herself. I just remember seeing the ball float in off a kick from about halfway between the goal and mid-field, meet Krieger’s head, and careen into the back netting.

It was one of my favorite live sports moments that I’ve seen in-person in a while. I’ve seen plenty of good ones over the years too like a game winning triple overtime goal and ones that clinched series’ victories. I’ve never seen a team win a championship in front of my eyes however. That’ll be for another time.  This one was special though. It was hard to come by given the situation and I won’t forget it. It made me realize how special it is to see a sporting event live. Standing in the mist or rain or whatever element was worth it, so was the travel distance, the price (it wasn’t too expensive), and the slight traffic. It all was. So I’m urging you. If you’re one of those people who like to watch from home, remember there are some irreplaceable moments in sports and seeing them in front of your own eyes every once in a while is what makes being a sports fan that more special. Put aside your preferences. Make time. Spend the money. It’s worth it to go to a game.

Three Strikes, You’re Out

Baseball, or America’s pastime, has been part of United States culture for a long time. Its origin dates back to the mid-18th century. By the late 1800’s and 1900’s baseball was widely recognized as the national sport of America and has grown to be a summer time favorite of sports fans throughout the nation.

If you played baseball growing up, chances are you might have played Little League, an organization that was founded in 1939 by Carl E. Stotz. Little League is one of the most popular and most recognized youth baseball leagues in the world. Every year since 1947 Little League honors the best Little League teams in the world by hosting a tournament called the Little League World Series in the town where it was founded, Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

It’s not an easy road to Williamsport. First, All-Star teams are selected from each Little League to compete in district, sectional (in some states/countries), divisional, and regional tournaments. Currently, the Little League World Series features 16 teams (8 American and 8 International) of players ages 11-13 from various regions across the globe. The U.S. regions are comprised of New England (made up of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts), Mid-Atlantic (made up of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, DC), Great Lakes (made up of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, and Wisconsin), Southeast (made up of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee), Midwest (made up of North/South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Missouri), Southwest (made up of Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas East and West), Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska), and West (made up of Northern and Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Hawaii). Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Europe and Africa, Asia-Pacific and Middle East, and Latin America are the international regions. With the long road to the Little League World Series making it to South Williamsport is an accomplishment for any team.

Once in Williamsport, the teams stay in dorms on the Little League complex. The players and coaches compound known as “The Grove” has been described as a little leaguer’s dream. It has a game room, pool, and all the food any kid would want. No one other than the players and coaches can go there either. The Little League complex in South Williamsport features more than just player dorms. There are two Little League stadiums, Volunteer Stadium, which opened in 2001 when the World Series expanded to include 16 teams instead of just 8, and the legendary Howard J. Lamade Stadium, which opened in 1959. Through the years Lamade has expanded and grown along with Little League Baseball. It went under an expansion in 1971, added lights in 1992 so night games could be played, and in 2006 the fences were moved back 20 ft to allow for more doubles and triples. The complex also features numerous practice fields and a museum dedicated to the past and present of Little League Baseball and Softball. During the week and half long tournament at the end of August, the players are treated like star athletes. They sign autographs and take photos with fans and receive media coverage from ESPN.

Since 1963 the ABC network (which is now in association with ESPN) has covered the Little League World Series. Until the late 80’s only the championship game was televised. Then slowly more games received coverage by ABC and ESPN. By 2007, all but one game was to air live on the networks. Now even the regional tournaments are getting major coverage. As of 2014, all regional tournament games can be streamed live online via ESPN3 with the exception of the Southeast and New England regional which are aired in full on regional networks affiliated with ESPN. The semifinals and final regional games are shown on the well-known sports network.

For those attending the Little League World Series, it never comes at a price. Parking and admission are free. The only time tickets are issued are for bigger games, like the championships or games where large crowds are expected (i.e. if a team within close driving distance like one from Pennsylvania makes it to Williamsport), but even then, the tickets are still free. They’re either distributed on a first come, first serve basis or in a random drawing.

I’ve attended the Little League World Series many times. Since it’s only an hour and a half drive from my home town, I attended annually from 2005-2012 and then once more in 2014. Typically my seat of choice came from bringing a soccer chair and setting it up on the first of the two hills that overlook Lamade Stadium. It’s standard practice for Little League fans to watch the game from either the hill or in the Stadium. The second hill only fills up for major games because it’s usually reserved for sliding down on cardboard, which is kind of a right of passage at the Little League World Series. During my first few trips to the Little League World Series I spent some serious time sliding on that hill. Before my first trip to South Williamsport, I watched the Little League World Series on TV so I knew what to expect when I saw that hill. Needless to say I was pumped to take my first slide on the short but steep slope. In addition to the hill, there’s a ton of other fun activities for guests like pin trading, merch shopping, sponsorship tents, and plenty of delicious and reasonably priced food. With all the activities as well as the games, the Little League World Series was something I looked forward to every summer after I attended for the first time.

This year’s Little League World Series will come to a close this Sunday, when two teams, one from the United States and one from an international region, meet for the championship. The championship game will air at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC. First a United States Champion and International Champion need to be crowned. Those games take place tomorrow and will both be aired on ABC as well. The International Championship will feature the East Seoul Little League from Seoul, South Korea and the Aguadulce Cabezera Little League from Aguadulce, Panama, which represent the Asia-Pacific and Latin America regions, respectively. The game takes place at 12:30 p.m. ET at Howard J. Lamade Stadium. The United States Championship will go to either the Maine-Endwell Little League from Endwell, NY or the Goodlettsville Baseball Little League from Goodlettsville, Tennessee. The U.S. Championship starts at 3:30 p.m. ET and also takes place in Lamade Stadium.

For the players, parents, coaches, volunteers and spectators at the Little League World Series, it’s more than just baseball. Memories are made and stories unfold. For the players, the memories last a lifetime, as well as some of the relationships made between teammates or with other kids from all over the world. It’s an experience like no other. The rest who attend make their memories in other ways like sliding down the hill on a piece of cardboard, catching a foul ball, creating an environment for the players to have the best week ever, spending the day with their kid(s) or even watching their own kid hit a home run. It’s easy to see why the Little League World Series is a special place and a place that anyone who’s ever worn the Little League patch should visit.

The Kid

Since January, I’ve been planning to write this blog post at this exact time in July. I’ve actually had a somewhat tough time trying to figure out what to write up until this point (at least from when Coachella ended until now). In the middle of January, I found out my favorite baseball player of all time was going to be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame and of course I figured it was necessary to write about him around the time of his induction. I know it seems like for a passionate hockey fan turned women’s soccer fan that baseball shouldn’t really matter. Truth be told, baseball was my favorite sport during my childhood. In fact, from around Kindergarten through 2nd grade, my dream was to be the first female in the MLB (Major League Baseball). Part of the reasoning for that had to do with “The Kid”, better known to the world as Ken Griffey Jr.

Ken Griffey Jr. was an All-Star center fielder for the Seattle Mariners. He was a clutch hitter with home run power, who routinely hit third in the lineup, and a defensive master in the middle of the outfield, who made insane diving catches and robbed opposing teams of home runs. It wasn’t until around 1995 or 1996 that I really started following him and the Mariners (my favorite team by default). For a few years before that, my favorite baseball player (according to my tee ball cards) was Cal Ripkin Jr., but only because he was my cousin Chris’s favorite baseball player. It wasn’t until I noticed Griffey that I had a true favorite. He was the first athlete that I idolized. I even wrote about him in 2nd grade. We had to write a report on our hero. I chose Ken Griffey Jr. He was that cool in my eyes. I guess I’ll try to channel my 2nd grade report to tell you about him.

George Kenneth Griffey Jr. was born on November 21, 1969 in Donora, PA (he later moved to Cincinnati, Ohio). His baseball influence came from his father, Ken Griffey Sr., a three time MLB All-Star and two time World Series Champion who played for the Cincinnati Reds. Griffey was selected first overall in the 1987 amateur draft by the Seattle Mariners. He began his career at the age of 19 for the Mariners on April 3, 1989 doubling on his first major league at bat. He played with the Mariners throughout the 90’s until getting traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 2000. He spent 8 1/2 seasons with the Reds until he was traded to the Chicago White Sox at the MLB trade deadline in 2008. He was able to retire as a Mariner after being signed by the team as a free agent in 2009. His last MLB appearance was on May 31, 2010.

Throughout his career Griffey acquired 630 home runs (6th all-time in MLB), 2,781 hits, and 1,836 RBIs playing in 2,671 games. He was a 13 time MLB All-Star, a 10 time Gold Glove Award winner, and a 7 time Silver Slugger Award winner. He even won the AL MVP Award in 1997 and 3 Home Run Derbys. In 1998, Griffey was a part of the home run chase of Roger Maris’s 61 home run record. He dropped off towards the end of the race when eventual record breakers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa pulled ahead. He finished that season with 56 home runs, the same as his 1997 total and (tied) the most of his career in a single season.

On January 6, 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by a record breaking 99.32% of the vote. Griffey will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend along with former Mets catcher, Mike Piazza. The ceremony takes place on Sunday and will be broadcast on MLB Network.

Ken Griffey Jr. was always a super star baseball player and an all around good guy, but he was also a cultural icon in the 90’s. He was endorsed by Nike and had his own signature sneaker line. He was the face of Nintendo’s baseball video games. He appeared on Wheaties boxes, in movies, and on TV shows. He was one of, if not the most, notable players in Major League Baseball and I totally bought into it. I, of course, had plenty of Griffey merchandise. I had t-shirts, caps, cards, figurines, posters, and even my baseball glove had a Griffey signature in gold on the palm. I still have most, if not all, of that memorabilia including my glove which I still use any time I play catch because it’s broken in and fits despite having a smaller pocket than what I need. I also still have a lot of the Griffey merch on display in my room making him a subtle part of my life since my childhood.

I stopped following “The Kid” shortly after he was traded to the Reds in 2000. In general, I stopped following baseball. At that point I was in 5th grade and became more interested in basketball than America’s pastime. I heard about Griffey here and there in the following years until his retirement in 2010. I heard when he was traded to the White Sox and when he signed with the Mariners again. I heard when he retired too, but it was already after he stopped playing. His retirement wasn’t a big happy going away party because of team controversies involving poor play surrounding him. He left the team to drive home one night in the middle of a 4 game home series with the Minnesota Twins and released a statement through the Mariners the following day. He chose to retire to avoid being a distraction to the team. However, on a more positive note, his former Seattle team plans to retire his jersey number, # 24, this year.

Fortunately, I was able to see Ken Griffey Jr. play baseball once. It was in 1998 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with my cousins who live outside of Baltimore. In fact, the day of his Hall of Fame induction will be 18 years to the date that I saw him play (I checked my old ticket for verification and yes I still have it). He didn’t make much of an impact that July afternoon (no homers or anything), but it was so cool to be able to see my idol out on the field. Now, years later, on the wake of Griffey’s Hall of Fame induction, it’s just as cool to be able to think back to when I idolized and followed him and to realize that he will be a National Baseball Hall of Famer alongside the greatest players in the game. It goes to show that no matter how old you get, your childhood idols will always have a place in your heart and you’ll still be happy for their accomplishments just as much as when you were young. Congrats to “The Kid” and thanks for always being my favorite!