As a kid, I was good at baseball, and I was extremely good at spelling. I don't want to under-state the difference between the two; I was good enough to be the 7th or 8th best player on my small town's Little League all-star team, but at spelling, I was the alpha dog—if you can ignore, for a moment, that there's no such thing as an alpha dog in spelling. I won regional championships in sixth and eighth grade—in my last year, I beat a girl who carried a teddy bear on stage and whispered to it before spelling, which I took as a sure sign of genius—and I could have moved on to a state competition that fed into the national spelling bee if I wanted. (I didn't, both because I had a basketball game on the Saturday in question both years, and because I knew I'd get absolutely destroyed by the socially maladaptive brainiacs at the next level.)
The reason I give you this bit of biography is because it made complete sense that I would watch both the Little League World Series and the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee around ages 8-15. It made sense that I enjoyed these events, and that I became really invested in them. It was, after all, very relevant to my interests.
Here's the problem: I am now 35 years old, and I still really like watching the LLWS and the spelling bee. I consider the latter to be appointment viewing each year, and while I'm not quite the Little League fanatic I once was, I still inevitably catch a handful of games each year, including the championship. It's great TV, with the highest possible emotional stakes.
But while these events are absurdly compelling, I'm not sure if they should be televised at all. Because let's be real—part of the riveting nature is the competition itself (I watch adult baseball too, and I would absolutely watch an adult spelling bee), but part of it is the fact that kids are competing, and the sheer amount of pressure heaped on them is both fascinating and a little appalling. In both cases, ESPN is making lots of money on what sorta/kinda amounts to child exploitation, and if you don't believe me, please note that beneath the veneer of sportsmanship and fair play touted by the network, the unbearable intensity of the spotlight still reduces multiple children to tears on national television every single year. Is that healthy? Is that good? Is it cool that I, a 35-year-old dude, am complicit in this state of affairs?
Of course, they also bring glory, and teach valuable life lessons about competition and adversity and etc. etc. I think. Or maybe it's just endless trauma, and it's all my fault for watching. I can't tell, and I would like someone else to make the decision for me. Until they do, though, I can't wait to see if the Staten Island team can continue their run all the way to the U.S. championship, and whether Canada has a cinderella run or if the international bracket belongs as usual to the Asia-Pacific team.
(Quickly forgets all qualms.)
It's going to be awesome!
Terrible Sports Idea of the Week: NFL Joint Practices
Hey, here's a great idea! Let's take a violent sport, put two teams that probably hate each other on the same field in the preseason, and see what happens!
Spoiler: What happened was fighting. Lots of fighting.
Here are the Jets and Redskins:
And here are the Colts and Ravens:
This was followed by the usual moral grandstanding, and pearl-clutching, and the entire performative rigamarole. But here's a crazy thought—maybe it's stupid to pit highly competitive players in a physical sport against each other before you have to, and then tell them that they have to restrain themselves at a point in the season when everyone has something to prove. Maybe cut out that element, and suddenly the whole problem will go away.
Of course, this is the NFL, so they'll probably double down on joint practices until somebody dies, and then say that anyone who criticizes the league hates the troops.
Best Way to Win a Baseball Game of the Decade: The Walk-Off Balk!
One of the best things about baseball is that the rules are so complex, and so many weird things can and do happen, that you can count on seeing something very strange at least a half dozen times each year. My favorite example of this came when the Rockies' Garrett Atkins hit a home run that went off a wheelchair in the first row in 2007 in game 163...and was called a double, because it looked like the ball hit the railing. It nearly cost the Rockies a playoff spot.
The latest example came when the Dodgers met the Mariners in Seattle. In the bottom of the 10th, with the bases juiced, Dodgers reliever Dylan Floro did this:
That's a walk-off balk, baby! A BALK-OFF!
This has not happened since 2004, but apparently it has happened a full 22 times in MLB history, which feels like a lot. However, that makes it more rare than a perfect game, and almost as rare as an unassisted triple play. It is quite possibly the most anticlimactic way for a sporting event to end, but the obscurity makes it all worthwhile. It's historic, in the most boring way possible.
Best Possible Way to Get Arrested: Tom Chambers, NBA Veteran
I want to note that I do not support getting arrested, and I do not support assault, but if you have to get arrested, Tom Chambers found the best way. Chambers is a 16-year NBA veteran who is responsible for the dunk you see below but back in mid-April, his resume was clearly not being respected by an unruly dude at a bar. Chambers was being smack talked relentlessly, and the vitriol included lines like, ""You're not sh*t," "You're tall and scrawny" and "Look at your big head." But the real cherry on top was this gem: "Your mom should have killed you when you came out of the womb as ugly as you are, your arms are skinny, your chest is this. Your belly is big."
That's some pretty involved heckling! And pretty brutal, too, or at least plenty brutal for Chambers, who apparently came across the bar and either "put hands on him" (Chamber's version) or "grabbed him by the throat and threw him backwards" (the other guy's). Police came, and it emerged last week that Chambers was charged with assault while his heckler got hit with disorderly conduct. And while that's not great for Chambers, sometimes a jerk at a bar just needs to be shut up. As far as arrests go, this one goes down as "actually pretty righteous."
P.S. violence is bad, don't get arrested.
The Warhorse of the Week: Simona Halep
Simona Halep is an excellent tennis player, and it's great that she finally won her first career grand slam at the French this season. She's the kind of player who gets to everything, never gives up, and is just an insanely tough out under any circumstance. As such, she has a tendency to play unbelievably epic matches, which we saw in Australia in her semifinal win over Kerber and her finals loss to Wozniacki (not to mention her 15-13 round of 16 win against Lydia Davis), and at the French in her three-set comeback win against Sloane Stephens in the finals.
This past weekend, she was at Cincinnati in a tune-up for the U.S. Open, and against Kiki Bertens in the final, she wound up in yet another third set. Trailing 4-1, she pulled out this point:
Halep went on to lose the set, but still—for someone who is rarely talked about even in the world of tennis, she really produces great points, great matches, and great tournaments.