Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

I know sports fans can be nutty.  I definitely enjoy sports and know my share of the crazies.  I’ve chuckled many times at friends for turning off the TV during a game because their team started doing poorly when they started watching. I’ve done the same thing or something similar countless times, but just never in front of people.  I know it’s silly, and because of that, I’ve always felt that my silliness was somewhat reasonable.  I wasn’t one of those fans on TV, half naked with paint all over their bodies, or one of those fans who wouldn’t shower because they believed it was helping a winning streak.  I loved my teams, but I didn’t try to antagonize people who didn’t feel the same way.  I bought jerseys and I attended games, so I thought I was fairly normal.  It turns out that I was wrong.

I went to a Wild vs Ducks hockey game a few months ago with a friend, my girlfriend and her brother.  I wore my new Wild jersey (the green one) that I got last year and brought my old Wild jersey (the red one) just in case someone wanted to wear it.  For previous games, that someone was my dad.  Since none of the people I was with were Ducks fans, I was hoping someone would help me represent the visiting team, but those requests fell on deaf ears, so I just held on to it.  After a period or two of futility from my favorite team, I decided to swap the jerseys.  I had gone 0-3 in my new jersey and was about to go 0-4, so I figured it might be bad luck and that switching to the old one would perhaps bring my team good luck.

When I took off the first jersey, a guy behind him asked me “are you really giving up on your team?” and when I told him that I was just switching jerseys, he totally understood my logic without needing me to explain it to him.  No one else around really seemed to notice the switch or they all inherently knew what I was doing.  The game was finally ended, and my jersey switch couldn’t turn the tide.  To me, this game was just one of many hockey games, and unfortunately it ended in a loss.

A few months later,  I ran into an acquaintance and after exchanging pleasantries, he asked me if changing jerseys at a hockey game was a normal occurrence for me.  I was immediately taken aback by his question, partly because of embarrassment, but also out of shock.  My acquaintance didn’t know anyone who I went to the game and I didn’t even recall ever having a conversation with him about sports.  It turned out that he was also at the game, and while he and his co-workers were trying to spot their Minnesota Wild loving friend elsewhere in the stands, they spotted me, and later spotted me in a different jersey.  I explained my superstitious logic behind the swap and he at least feigned understanding about it.  I was somewhat embarrassed about it, but not embarrassed enough to not try it again at some point.

For the first time that I know of, I looked like a crazy sports fan, and in the eyes of my acquaintance and his co-workers that night, I looked like a loon who couldn’t decide which jersey he wanted to wear.  Unfortunately to me, that doesn’t sound all that exciting.  If I was going to be deemed sports crazy, I’d like to be like the group of Minnesota Wild fans that brought a Minnesota state flag to a game to a hang over the railing, or my friend who I didn’t realize I was seated next to at a Clippers game because they were wearing a cape and was screaming that every player on the opposing team was a rapist, not just the guy who kept switching between jerseys at a hockey game.

My brand of crazy just isn’t crazy enough.  It’s a nerdy crazy and it just doesn’t feel as bold and brave as I’d like it to.  I can’t spin yarns about how I painted my face and torso, knowing it was going to be below freezing weather.  I can’t tell tales about how I screamed obnoxiously at opposing players without a single drop of alcohol in my system.  While I often look down on these people, or in the case of my friend, not recognize them until they’ve turned to me and asked me if I remembered her, I secretly envy them and their ability to totally immerse themselves in their fandom for their team.  For now, the Minnesota Wild will have to accept me and my two jerseys.  Hopefully the next time they’re in town, I’ll have embraced a whole new level of crazy, a crazy that will help them over that final hump and to victory.

 

My friend Paul once informed me that his dad told him to go see Harold and Kumar go to White Castle and even paid for his ticket.  When I asked Paul if his dad even knew what Harold and Kumar was about, he told me that his dad “just wanted [him] to support John Cho”, the Korean-American actor who plays Harold Lee.  Paul’s dad wasn’t particularly worried about the details: what the movie was about, or that it’s full raunchy stoner humor. Paul’s dad just wanted his son to support “one of us”, which in this case, was a Korean American who was starring in an American film.

While it was only a $12 gesture, it’s pretty funny to think of a father demanding his son to go watch a raunchy R-rated movie to the point where he’d pay for the ticket.  This is an extreme case of this “one of us” sort of mentality, and while it can seem a little silly, It’s a mentality that I actually identify with (it’s also a Minnesota thing), and that’s probably why I ended up in a little story that I like to call Ryan and Cameron go to Bakersfield.

I met Cameron at work when we were both working retail.  He worked in the stock room and I worked on the sales floor.  He had just moved to the mainland (California) from Hawaii and he didn’t have many friends or any family out here, so I quickly became one of his good friends.  Cameron found out that my friend Jessica and I were really into hockey, so he started to check it out and quickly became a fan.

He started going to games, buying jerseys, and soaking up any information about the game and its players.  Since he was Japanese-American, and since Hawaii has no hockey team, he started gravitating towards players of Japanese descent like Paul Kariya and Devon Setoguchi.  He became particularly enamored with Yutaka Fukufuji, the first Japanese born goalie be drafted into the NHL, and when Cameron found out about him, he found out that Fukufuji was playing on a minor league hockey team in Bakersfield, just a few hours north of where we lived.

He wanted to see Fukufuji in action so I agreed to go to Bakersfield with him so he could catch a game.  He had never been to Bakersfield before, but he was so excited that Yutaka Fukufuji was getting his own bobble head night, that he insisted we go, even though I gave the city of Bakersfield an unfavorable review.  We met up at my apartment the morning of the game, piled into my car, and made our way north towards Bakersfield.  We stopped for lunch in Torrance so I could meet up with a friend, and at lunch, Cameron took advantage of the fact that I was driving by indulging in a 2nd drink.

We made it up to Bakersfield a few hours later, but we arrived so early that they weren’t ready for us to enter the arena.  It was quite windy that day so when we decided to walk the streets of Bakersfield to pass the time, we were met with flying specks of sand.  This was unpleasant to say the least, and completely horrifying to Cameron.  This was a far cry from the serene and beautiful conditions of his native Hawaii, or at least it was in his mind’s eye.  For him, the trip started to go downhill at this point, and it went downhill pretty quickly.

Once we entered the arena, we received our bobble heads and Cameron bought a jersey.  I asked him if he wanted to grab a beer but he declined because he started to get a headache, most likely from the drinks that he had at lunch.  We sat in our seats and soon after, the game started.  The Bakersfield Condors came out on the ice and for a brief time, Cameron was able to enjoy himself despite his headache and his poor opinion of Bakersfield.  He cheered for Fukufuji whenever he made a save, but there was very little to cheer for in this game.  The Condors fell behind early, and it was clear that they weren’t going to make any sort of a comeback.  By the time the 2nd period hit, Cameron’s headache had come back with a vengeance, and we ended up having to leave the game early.

As we headed back to Orange County, it started to rain, and when you couple rain with high winds that are picking up sand, it might appear to the untrained eye that it is raining mud.  Cameron started to freak out that the apocalypse had arrived and I had to calm him down, while driving us both in the pouring rain.  We got back safely to Orange County and when he returned to work over the weekend, he was spinning tales of surviving the hell that is Bakersfield, California, where it rains mud, just so he could get a Yutaka Fukufuji bobble head and a Bakersfield Condors jersey, and that he would do it again, because Fukufuji is “one of us”.

Woody Allen coined the famous phrase “If you want to make God laugh, show him your plans.”  Sometimes, we curse the heavens regardless if we believe if someone lives up there or not.  If you do believe in the man upstairs, I advise you not to shake your fist in anger at him or he will smite you readily with his right hand.  On one fateful day, I looked up at the sky and said “Let this Match.com subscription bring me at least one meaningful relationship, or I’m going to order NHL Center Ice (approx retail price: $171.80), wear my Zack Parise Minnesota Wild jersey every day after I get home from work, and let myself go until the hockey season is over.”  By letting myself go, I mean: parking myself on the couch, eating a steady diet of liquid nacho cheese, and drinking a lot of beer.  Now, I didn’t hear God’s voice that day, but if I did, I assume our conversation would’ve gone something like this:

“God, did you hear me?”

“Yup.”

“So?”

“Ryan, have you heard of the phrase ‘Don’t bargain with the devil?'”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Don’t bargain with God either.”

My Match.com subscription proved to be fruitless, which despite my best efforts, was not a total surprise.  I wasn’t even asking to find “the one”, but one relationship that would justify me paying for a few months of dating roulette.   I spent a lot of money and drove a lot of miles to no avail.  There were more train wreck dates than not, and my subscription ended with me nursing my damaged ego.

Then there was the NHL lockout.  The NHL lockout prevented me from being able to watch any hockey, let alone any local games.  While I won’t be melodramatic and say that I was miserable, I felt like I’d been given a raw deal.  Instead of getting option ‘A’ or option ‘B’, I got option ‘C’, “none of the above.”  I was without a girl or an escape.  Either God needed to buy himself some time, or he was trying to teach me a lesson.  Seeing how he is an omnipotent being, I’ll stick with the latter.

I’ve always had a bit of skepticism whether God was ever listening or not.  I know that he’s not Santa Claus, but I’ve never seen many of my prayers answered, especially during Finals Week  in college.  Now, I can say, with much confidence, that he’s listening, and if you want to challenge him, he’s going to show off a pretty wicked sense of humor while bringing you down a peg.  I learned the hard way, and now all I want, is for hockey to come back.

 

A couple of days after my 30th birthday, my best friend had a confession.  He hadn’t bought me a birthday gift yet.  I could’ve really piled on the guilt, especially since it was sort of a “landmark” birthday, but I was actually quite relieved.  The day after my birthday, something exciting had happened that actually made that Bruce’s procrastination a blessing in disguise.  The Minnesota Wild had agreed to terms with Zach Parise to play for their team, and as a hockey fan who grew up in Minnesota, it was a big deal, which I’ll explain in detail later.  When Bruce IM’ed me “Sorry, I didn’t buy you a present yet, is there anything you want?”, I immediately typed “ZACH PARISE JERSEYYYYY” in all caps.

Since Bruce is not much a sports fan, he needed to look up who Zach Parise was.  I expected that.  What I didn’t expect, was for him to ask me if I wanted the Zach Parise jersey from his old team, the New Jersey Devils.  At first, I thought he was being dense.   Zach Parise is a Minnesota born hockey player, I’m a Minnesota born hockey fan, and he just signed with Minnesota Wild, why would I want anything but his Minnesota jersey?. But then I realized that Zach Parise’s Minnesota Wild jersey wasn’t available online yet, and the availability was what was confusing Bruce, not the Minnesota affiliation.

Coincidentally, Bruce was actually in Minnesota at the time visiting his family, so the fact that he hadn’t heard about the signing is actually quite an accomplishment.  Not only was the Parise signing front page news of the sports section, but it was probably on the front page of the paper, the lead story on the nightly news, the biggest story in the state, period.  Minnesotans are rabid about their love of hockey, and even more rabid when it comes to local born players that have become stars in the pros.  While I’m not as extreme as some of the fans when it comes to this fascnation, I definitely relate to a certain degree.  Zach Parise is coming home, and I immediately needed to buy his jersey.

Being the generous friend that he is, Bruce bought me my Zach Parise jersey.  There was some difficulty in the ordering process, so it took a few weeks longer than we expected.  I was getting anxious.  I was worried that the jersey wasn’t going to show up before the start of the season.  LIttle did I know that the season wasn’t going to start on time because of a labor dispute, so the urgency of receiving the jersey ended up being moot.

The last time I bought a hockey jersey was back in 2004, the first time that I visited Minnesota since moving to California.  I visited Bruce’s family and on the last day I was there, I bought a Minnesota Wild jersey.  I had been contemplating getting a Minnesota sports jersey during my entire trip, but with a little bit of advice from Bruce, I ended up with a hockey jersey.  “What’s more Minnesotan than a hockey jersey?” he pointed out.  When it came to selecting the jersey of the player, I didn’t go with any of the stars or any up and coming prospects, I went with a role player named Richard Park.  He wasn’t a flashy player, but he was Korean, and while I’m not exactly Mr. Korean Pride, Bruce also pointed out that I could wear his jersey long after he leaves the team since Park and Pak are the same last name in Korean and that I could “rep Minnesota on the front [of the jersey] and Korea on the back.”

After I arrived back in California, a friend asked me why I would accept a custom jersey that had my name misspelled on the back.  After I explained to him that the Minnesota Wild actually had a Korean hockey player with the last name Park, he didn’t believe me.  Actually, very few people made the connection but I didn’t care.  I was repping my team and where I was from, but after 8 years and the introduction of an alternate jersey, it was time for a change.

So while I cross my fingers that the 2012-2013 season won’t be canceled, I wait to don my Zach Parise jersey to show my Minnesota pride and my support for my team.  Of course I could wear the jersey without there being a season, but I’d like to start wearing my jersey at a relevant time.  While the labor dispute has definitely left a bad taste in my mouth, I know that when hockey is finally here, I’ll be as excited as I was when my jersey arrived in the mail.  Bruce may not love sports, but he knows how big of a deal it is for me to get a new jersey, and now he definitely knows it’s a big deal, especially since he was part of the whole crazy process both times.

In one of my many failed attempts to get in shape, I decided to take up playing roller hockey.  I thought that playing a team sport would be an easier way for me to burn calories since I would be having fun, so I convinced my friend to join up with me because he was also looking to shed some pounds.  I’ve wanted to play hockey ever since I was a little boy growing up in Minnesota but my parents weren’t too keen on it since it would’ve given a bunch of white kids a valid reason to hit me.  While that fear was probably unfounded, it was probably for the best.  I learned to ice skate around the age of 8 and that would’ve put me way behind the curve of most hockey playing Minnesota kids.

So since I’m now an adult and I’m in Southern California, my friend and I signed up for a beginner’s roller hockey league.  This was a no-hitting league, but unfortunately the skill level of people in the league varied.  No one would be mistaken for a professional hockey player, but there was definitely a considerable difference between the skill level of the best guys on our team, and real beginners like my friend and me.  This didn’t sit well with our team captain, John.  He did very little to show his contempt for two actual beginners, but he needed more warm bodies on his team and that’s pretty much all we were to him.  He would scream and swear at us constantly, whether he was on the bench or on the rink with us.  My friend received the brunt of the punishment since he was less skilled and more out of shape than me and he quit soon after that (I later found out that my friend cannot take any sort of criticism and that is why we are no longer friends.)

I decided to keep playing, because even though this guy was a jerk, my main goal was to exercise and get in better shape.  Occasionally, I would have other friends play on the team, taking over my other friend’s spot, but for the most part I was pretty much an outsider, other than this other new guy who was also a beginner.  Most of the guys were pretty nice, but they were also much older so we didn’t get to know each other that well.  Through random talk in the locker room or on the bench, I found out our captain was pretty much the stereotypical jock.  He played minor league baseball part time, played rec-league hockey at night, and his only hobbies seemed to be staring at women like a creep and getting drunk.  It’s probably a safe assumption to say that he probably didn’t listen to Sufjan Stevens and Belle and Sebastian.

Our team was pretty terrible.  I think we only won one game during the eight game season.  It would be unfair to place the blame on me, or the other new guy, or my friend who quit after one game, we just lacked players.  We surely could’ve used more skilled players, but we just didn’t have enough players to keep our team fresh and we would wear down with fatigue as the game went along.  After our last game, the captain actually told me that I had improved a lot over the course of the season.  It was nice to know that in the midst of all his rage that he actually noticed that I was getting better.  It was a pleasant surprise, but it didn’t make up for all the verbal abuse I had taken all season long.  I was asked if I was going to come back the next season and I said “I don’t know”, which was the honest truth at the time.  Playing hockey was fun, but it was expensive, and since we played these games on weeknights, it made it really hard for wake up for work the next morning.

My decision whether I would continue playing hockey was made for me a couple of weeks later at a pickup game. I took a slapshot to the only unprotected part of my skate, right where the laces are.  My foot immediately began to swell and I could barely walk on it.  I was scared that I had broken it, but after about a day, my foot was back normal.  Even though I didn’t need any medical attention for it, I thought about how difficult my life would’ve been if I had broken my right foot.  I wouldn’t be able to drive to work, it would be a pain to get around the campus of the school I work at, and I would probably need assistance at the grocery store.  While I realize that sometimes injuries will happen if you’re careful or not, I thought it would be better to stop throwing myself in harm’s way, where hard rubber discs fly at me at 70mph on a regular basis.

So after one season, I retired from rec-league roller hockey, and while I didn’t lose a lot of weight from playing, I proved that I was tough and resilient, not just physically but emotionally as well.  While I can’t say that I went out on top, or as a champion, I can at least say that I didn’t quit because Captain Jerkface yelled at me.  Even though I probably will never see him again, and I probably wouldn’t say much if I did, I gained his respect, and for some strange reason that is somewhat satisfying.

When I was a kid, I was a sucker for baseball game promotions.  Whenever they were giving away free stuff at a game, I wanted to be there.  I wanted the free baseball cards, the hats, and whatever other junk they were peddling.  Looking back, I probably drove my parents nuts.  We went to lots of Twins games back when we lived in Minneapolis, but I only remember one time where they relented and actually took me to one of these promotion games, and unfortunately we got there too late for me to actually collect my prize.  I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get my mini-bat (not to be confused with an actual useful full sized bat), but we stayed for the game and we definitely got our money’s worth.  The game went 14 or 15 innings and by the time the last inning hit, we had moved down from our nose bleed seats to seats right along the field level.  We ended up over by the visiting team’s bullpen and when they sent their closer in at the end, I yelled to him that he sucked.  He ended up blowing the game, and a couple of other games after that, so as a kid, I seriously thought I had jinxed him.

As an adult now, I realize that for the most part, a lot of this stuff that they give away is junk.  I would never tell a kid that this stuff is junk, but outside of bobble head dolls, most of the stuff that I get at these games ends up in the trash or it’ll go to my friend’s kids when I move.  It’s not that I think I’m above this stuff, I just don’t want to put up a picture of the 2007 Angels team with some company’s corporate logo plastered all over the poster.  As an adult, I find all this sponsorship stuff kind of tacky.  I mean, I understand it works and that it has value.  I would just rather not have posters or clothes that tell people to eat at Dairy Queen.  It’s a personal preference.

I wouldn’t say that I’m adverse to receiving anything at the ballpark for free.  I’ll take any sort of free food or beer no matter how gross or bad it is, because at the ballpark I like to lower the bar when it comes to my foodie and beer-snob ways.  I don’t care how greasy or fattening my food is, and I don’t mind if I have to drink Bud Light as long as it comes in that cup that has glowing lights on the bottom of it.  It’s all part of the experience and I need at least one place in my life where it’s okay to enjoy liquid processed cheese.

Of course, I still go to games because I enjoy the sport.  I haven’t outgrown my love of baseball.  I don’t like watching it on TV as much as I did when I was a kid when I had all the time in the world, but I still love watching it in person.  I love watching the ball jump off the bat.  It’s just so much more impressive live than on TV, especially when the ball is headed towards your section via a home run or a foul ball.   I’ve been fortunate enough to get one.  I didn’t catch it, it rolled into the (company) suite that we were in and my co-worker gave it to me since it was a Twins v Angels game.  The next day I showed up to the park early and headed over to the seats by the Twins dugout to get the ball signed. Justin Morneau (2006 American League MVP) was doing an interview with Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry (I believe it was around the time that the Ducks and Canucks were playing each other in the playoffs, and Mourneau is a big Canucks fan).  I waited for the interview to be over and I yelled “Hey MVP” and Mourneau turned his attention towards me.  I tossed him my foul ball from the night before, and my sharpie and he signed the ball and tossed the ball and marker back to me.  It was a surreal moment for me as I basically played toss and catch with one of my favorite baseball players.  I was no longer an adult, I was back to being that little kid who wanted to go to all those games to get the free souvenirs.

I was at an Anaheim Ducks game a few weeks ago.  I went with Jessica, who I hadn’t seen in a while.  We were both exhausted from trying (and succeeding) to snag Thom Yorke tickets from earlier that morning.  The Ducks had blown the lead but we were probably too tired to really care, and then a puck flew into the stands about a row in front of us.  The people in front of us were feverishly looking for the puck but after a minute they threw their hands up in the air, confused.  I was so out of it that Jessica had to motion to me that the puck was directly in front of me, right behind the row, so I just instinctively lunged down and grabbed it.  I was told by the usher to stand up and hold the puck up high so everyone could see that I grabbed it.  People cheered for me except for the people in the row in front, they just kind of grumbled.  It dawned on me then that I was in sports fan heaven.  I had received a foul ball and an out of play puck in the same lifetime.  Most people would be lucky to have gotten one of these and here in my room, I have both.  Maybe it’s because I didn’t get the puck signed, of maybe it’s because I was taught to share as a child, but I think I’m going to give the puck to Jessica since she paid for the tickets.  I’m definitely not giving it to her because I don’t want it.  It’s something that I actually considered buying a display case for (my autographed baseball is already in one).  Souvenirs like these have helped me see past the corporate sponsorships that plague sports today and perhaps since I already have one thing to remind me of my pure love of these sports (and will be a great story for my future kids), I’m okay to part with the other.

We are currently in a very anxious time for the entire state of Minnesota.  At stake is the well-being of every person in the state.  Who’s holding them for ransom?  A 26 year old professional baseball player named Joe Mauer.  If you don’t know who Joe Mauer is, ask any Minnesotan over the age of 5 and they will probably be able to recite you his Wikipedia page ver batim: born and raised in St Paul, Minnesota, was the highest rated quarterback and baseball player coming out of high school, drafted first overall by his hometown Twins in 2001, has won two batting titles and an MVP award by the age of 26 and will hopefully be signing the richest contract for a catcher in baseball history (somewhere in the ballpark of 200 million dollars over the next ten years) for the hometown team.  If you don’t know or follow baseball, all you need to know is that there is few greater joys for small market sports fan than watching a hometown kid (or ONE OF US as Minnesota hockey fans like to say) become a star for the hometown team.  Mauer in on track to become the best catcher to ever play baseball and is perhaps the best player playing today.  If he doesn’t sign his contract before it expires, there is a huge fear that he will leave for New York or Boston for probably $10 million dollars more a year.   This fear is probably unwarranted since Joe Mauer is the Jay-Z of the Twin Cities.  He runs this town.

I’m not sure if I’m exaggerating when I say that there will be a riot in the Twin Cities in Mauer ends up leaving the only place he’s lived for the East Coast.  There are some sports fans who are far too emotionally invested in their teams, where they can be hostile when told critical things about their teams/players, even when they are absolute facts.  These people are referred to as “homers”.  These people can be difficult to deal with because you can’t use logic or facts on them.  They’re loyal to a fault, and typically are too far invested in their teams/sports that they are hard to have normal conversations with.  There was a movie that was made about this last year called Big Fan, starring Patton Oswalt.  While I don’t know of any homers that have followed their favorite athlete (and entourage) to a strip club, I’m pretty sure that there are some homers that will vandalize the newly minted Target Field (which ironically they paid for via their taxes) if Mauer doesn’t sign his contract.

I’ll be honest, in some ways I’m very much a homer.  I usually know which players have Minnesota ties, like the 2010 olympic team (about 1/3 of the team is either from Minnesota, went to a prep school in Minnesota or went to college there).  I can usually admit when my teams are bad and I try not to overrate players I have special ties to (I probably played little league baseball against Pat Neshek or his brother).  I’m a bit of a homer when it comes to Minnesota music as well.  I’m a huge fan of Low, (Bob Dylan and Prince are universally beloved so we can skip them), I will defend Semisonic as being far better than a one-hit wonder, and I love Tapes ‘n Tapes, though I will admit Walk it Off is a huge letdown after their amazing debut, The Loon.

There’s a new “kid” on the block from Minnesota that I just can’t get behind and it’s not because they’re not from the Twin Cities (neither is Low or Team USA captain Jamie Langenbrunner).  It’s because this kid is just terrible.  I, of course, speak of Owl City whose hit “Fireflies” was the number one song in the COUNTRY not too long ago.  I’m not one of those people who gets annoyed when an artist becomes too mainstream.  I never liked Owl City, even with their inspirational unsigned artist with a Myspace account to chart topper story.  I won’t touch the whole “they sound like Postal Service” debate because my friends’ heads will explode, but I must say this.  As a Minnesota native who is supremely proud of it, how do I reconcile being ashamed of this particular Minnesota artist?

This is probably anti-climactic but the only way I’ve thought of is just to not mention that Owl City (which is really just one guy, I don’t even know why I know this) is from Minnesota.  It’s like when a movie comes out, the trailers and posters only point out the “good” things affiliated with the movie, not the bad.  The next Halle Berry movie trailer will most likely NOT mention she was in Catwoman but it WILL most likely mention her Oscar win.  The next Danny Boyle film will mention that he directed Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting but will most likely leave out A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach (maybe).  So lets let this be the last time we discuss the origins of Owl City.  Adam Young, I wish you the best of luck in your musical career, but Minnesota only has room for one native son to cherish and his name is Joe Mauer.

Every year, without fail, I’ll get obsessed with the NBA, NFL, and NHL drafts. I’ll scour mock drafts on websites, talk it about it with friends, and read whatever I can get my hands on. This is definitely a huge time waster at work so I try my best to avoid the temptation, since now with the internet, following a draft starts the day after the draft. These drafts are an odd process.  These multimillion dollar (soon to be billion dollar) sports teams congregate in some auditorium, they force kids (between the ages of 17-24) to sit in said auditorium in a suit, and then select them like they were selecting a kick ball team by giving each kid a baseball cap. But unlike a kickball team, these kids are getting multimillion-dollar contracts. Sweet deal.

I’m not complaining about the fact that these kids are getting paid millions of dollars. If you’re really good at something, you’re going to get paid for it. That’s how I’ve been taught life works, unless you’re an artist. Plus, these kids get put under the microscope and aren’t allowed to be kids anymore. Caught smoking weed in college? You have “character” issues. Got in a fight outside of a club because someone spilled Bud Light on your new Italian loafers? You’re a head case. Every kid gets dissected. “He seems to have a low basketball IQ”, “he doesn’t have a high enough vertical”, “his wingspan is surprisingly short”.  See, these kids have expectations to perform, and short of dying or being paralyzed, these kids will be judged no matter what life throws at them. “Tore up your knee? Great! You will be booed on the street because you’ve set our franchise back three years!” “Your Mom died? You need to get over it because Game 7 is tomorrow.” Sympathy is dead. 20-year-old kids are getting labeled as failures. It’s truly a great world we live in.

It actually really is if you’re Mark Madsen, who somehow managed to escape having any expectations bestowed on him even though he was a 1st round pick. 1st round picks are supposed to be useful, maybe not necessarily great, but regular contributors. Mark was picked by the Lakers with the last pick of the first round, and immediately the joke was “he’s getting picked to guard Shaq during practice”. Madsen is perhaps the worst player in the NBA. It’s almost unanimous but he seems to find work and isn’t considered a failure. If he were a walk-on, I’d understand because he’d be the modern day Rudy. But would you still enjoy the movie if Rudy came from a ridiculously wealthy family? Nope, but here we are, shrugging at Mark Madsen’s lack of skills, instead of looking back at the draft and wondering who the Lakers could’ve had that would’ve been a better choice of a pick.

Not to personally hate on the guy. I mean, I hear he’s a great teammate, and an even better person. Maybe the NBA is just trying to teach us about morals. Or maybe we see a little bit of Madsen in ourselves. I mean, isn’t most of America incompetent at what they but enjoy getting paid for it anyways? Mark Madsen is a symbol of America, except he’s got great character.

A few years ago, I went to a(n) (Los Angeles) Angels (of Anaheim) game with my friends. We got cheap seats, since it was a pretty last minute idea. They were playing the Oakland A’s that night and since I’m not originally from California, I didn’t really care about the outcome of the game. I especially didn’t participate in the Nor-Cal vs So-Cal debate between the hometown Angel fans and the Oakland (or just Bay Area, in general) fans. My friends and I were stuck in between the two groups of feuding fans, and to throw a monkey wrench into the whole discussion, I screamed “May the better team win!”

The game was entertaining enough but not very memorable. It was a September game, and one of the two teams (my guess, the Angels) had already clinched the division. Neither team was really playing for anything. They were just trotting out their September call ups to get some big league experience, but this game will always have a place in my heart. Why? Because it was my first baseball game in an outdoor park (not including playing Little League baseball games out in Brooklyn Park/Center).

I’ve been to many baseball games before, but they were all in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Domes aren’t very popular these days, but they looked really cool back in the 1980s (but didn’t age well, much like Tomorrow Land at Disney Land). The Twins played there and used all of the Dome’s quirks to their advantage. There was the super bouncy astro turf, the “Big Baggie” in right field, the speakers that hung over the field, and the whiteness of the dome itself which replaced the sky, day or night. Looking back, it was unnatural as baseball could be, but it’s really all I knew, as far as professional baseball was concerned. It was almost like a perk of being a professional. Instead of having to play baseball in the gross Minnesota humidity with gnats and mosquitoes buzzing about, a professional gets to play in a nice temperature controlled dome.

My family later moved to San Diego, and I never went to a Padres game at Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium. (I’ve been to Petco, to watch the Twins whoop on the Padres.) There was a huge sports void in my life when we moved to San Diego. Actually, it was a giant void, period. I stopped playing baseball, playing piano, going to church, and I stopped begging my parents to go to games. After a couple of years, the piano playing and the church going started up again, but baseball was kind of dead to me. Then the lockout happened, but I still loved my Twins even though they were so terrible that they were almost contracted.  Luckily they started to become competitive again and eventually found their funding for a brand new OUTDOOR stadium.  I went to a game at the Dome on my last trip back to the Twin Cities.  It was my first game in the Dome in 16 or 17 years.  It would be a gross understatement to say that it’s not a very charming place to watch a baseball game.  We drove by Target Field, which is set to open in 2010 and that places looks marvelous.  It’s a piece of art, and not one of those pieces of futuristic pieces of art that end up looking like a joke.  The Twins made sure that they got their new stadium (the native Minnesota limestone in the exterior of the building used is both a classy and a beautiful choice).

I’ll always identify with the Twins. They were such a huge part of my childhood. I got to live during a time where they won 2 World Series’. I have the Homer Hankies to prove it. Actually my childhood in Minnesota was all kinds of awesomeness. The North Stars went to the finals in ’91, the Superbowl was hosted at the Metrodome in January of 92. The Mighty Ducks was released, which is basically a celebration of youth hockey in Minnesota. It was a good time to be growing up as a sports fan. I definitely miss the ice skating, the sledding, the snowmen building and biking around lakes, but I believe I left at a good time. The North Stars left (but were eventually replaced by the Wild, whom I love), academic scandal broke out with University of Minnesota Men’s Basketball team, the Twins were futile for about a decade, and more importantly, the suburb that I grew up in started to quickly decay. My Minnesota childhood was a pretty amazing experience, and for me to think that moving back one day will provide the same experience is pretty naive. It’s not that I believe Minnesota has lost its luster, it’s just that I’m not prepared to experience it full time as an adult yet. As a child, I didn’t have to deal with warming up my car engine for a half hour before being able to drive the car, or driving through ice roads, or just not wanting to go out because the weather is so cold outside.  I know those thoughts are a far cry from what I thought as a child, and there’s still a good chance I could love living back there anyways.  I do know one thing for sure, as a child or as as an adult, I may not be able to root root root for my Twins as the home team, but I’ll still root for them wherever I end up.

I spent my childhood in Minnesota, which has the nickname, The State of Hockey. I grew up a Gopher/North Stars/High School Hockey fan. It was a great time to be a hockey fan. The North Stars played in the Stanley Cup Finals in ’91 (unfortunately they relocated a couple of years later), we were still basking in the glow of Herb Brooks’ victory over the Russians in 1980, and I was part of some sort of hockey marketing revolution known as The Mighty Ducks. The first film takes place in Minnesota and the kids go to a Minnesota North Stars game. It was a complete coincidence that I was there with my parents.  We saw cameras and lighting crews in a different section an later found out that Disney was filming a movie there were going to call  Bombay. (Terrible right?)

I moved to San Diego at the end of ’93. San Diego had a hockey team known as the Gulls. I don’t think they exist anymore and I think calling them a minor league team would be giving them too much credit. So basically, I was resigned to watching hockey on TV until I moved up to Orange County for college (and for some reason I haven’t left). So guess who plays in Orange County? That’s right! The Ducks (no longer Mighty). It’s the circle of life.

I’ve been going to a lot of games the last couple of seasons because my friend Jessica has season tickets. We watch them fight, and fight, and fight and fight and fight, and sometimes a hockey game breaks out. The games are entertaining, but what we find more entertaining is introducing people new to hockey what the Ducks experience is all about. See, if you go to enough games, you realize some things, like it’s the same people singing the national anthem before the games over and over again. There’s also the “goal” song. Whenever the Ducks score, you hear the chorus of “Bro Hymn” by Pennywise, which they use even though it’s a tribute to friends who have died in the past. (I just looked this up) The song features a wordless chorus, unless you consider “Whoa whoa oh oh, whoa oh, whoa oh oh” actual lyrics.  From children who were probably born after “Bro Hymn” was recorded, to the old man who screams “Lets go Duck!” at the top of his lungs while wearing a NoFX shirt over his jersey, people are standing up belting out this chorus over and over again at the top of their lungs.

There’s also the phenomenon that is the DiPenta Lady (Lets use DL for short). The last couple of seasons the Ducks have had a player named Joe DiPenta. He’s known to most Ducks fans as the worst player on the team who must have blackmail worthy pictures of their coach to be on the team. Not too flattering, to say the least. There’s this lady (an older lady, in her 40s at least) in this section that we used to sit in, that would wear a DiPenta jersey and would look through a scrapbook of DiPenta pictures with the aid of a magnifying glass. She’s there every game, even this season though he’s not on the team anymore, but she still has her scrapbook and DiPenta jersey. Apparently Joe plays here now and apparently DL has purchased his jersey from that team and wears it occasionally (Jessica has seen it, I have not).

Ducks fans are a rowdy bunch.  I’ve been cussed at in the bathroom for wearing my Minnesota Wild jersey at a regular season game when nothing was on the line.  When the refs enter the rink, they enter through a tunnel constructed to keep fans from pelting them with various objects.  So since the refs are protected, the fans choose to verbally abuse the refs with boos and various expletives.  Referees are pretty unpopular in any sport and with any crowd so I thought the the booing and the tunnel were pretty standard at any arena around the country.  I was wrong.  I recently caught an LA Kings game at the Staples Center and there was no tunnel to be found.  What was even more strange was the fact that there was no tunnel needed.  At the game, it was announced that one of the referees that day was retiring at the end of the season.  Was he showered with boos or mocking cheers?  No.  He was given a standing ovation.

I guess the difference in arena atmosphere wasn’t a huge surprise (the Ducks are typically the most penalized team in the league), but I guess the contrast was magnified since these two arenas are within a 45 mile radius of each other.  The Ducks have come along way since dropping the “Mighty” from their title as well as their squeaky clean image, culminating in a Stanley Cup championship in 2006.  The Kings haven’t been to the finals since ’93 (where they lost to Montreal, the last time a Canadian team has won it all), and are currently in a rebuilding phase.  There are two kinds of hockey fans: the ones that love crisp passing and smooth skating and the ones that love the blood and the guts.  Luckily for Southern California fans, when it’s hockey night in California, you can have you choice with either the rough and tumble Ducks, or up and coming Kings.

If you are a male that is even remotely interested in sports, I think it’s inevitable that you will be asked by another male the question of “If you could be any professional athlete, who would you be?” It’s like a guy to guy ice breaker. Unfortunately, more often to not, the response to the question gives you very little insight into the other person, so it’s actually a terrible ice breaker. Usually the guy picks an elite athlete from his favorite sport and that’s the only criteria he uses. It doesn’t really tell you much about how they think other than the fact that they think a guy is really good.

Living in Southern California, I would expect most guys to say Kobe Bryant, which is honestly a really boring answer. He’s an elite basketball player for the local Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, but other than his little run in with the law in Colorado, there’s not much to Kobe other than the fact that he’s really good at putting an orange ball through a hoop. LeBron James is another boring answer. He’s younger and has the potential to be better than Kobe. He makes Tiger Woods-esque endorsement money, which is really impressive, but moot at the same time since any elite pro athlete you choose probably makes more money than you could possibly spend (unless you decide to buy a lot of crack).

Sometimes you’ll get a response that actually *might* give you insight into a person. If a guy picks Tom Brady, who has quarterbacked the New England Patriots to multiple championships, he may also want to be Tom Brady because it is a known fact that Tom Brady has slept with multiple super models (so he’s horny). If a guy picks David Beckham, it might be because he’s married to Posh Spice or because David Beckham is the only soccer player that the typical American can recognize (he’s starved for attention and kind of a poseur).

So when this question comes around to me, I’m sure most guys expect this answer out of me: Joe Mauer. Joe Mauer was born and raised in Minnesota, was a two-sport star in high school, got drafted 1st overall by the Minnesota Twins, won a batting title and could very well be on his way to the hall of fame. If you lived in Minnesota and he slept with your wife, you’d almost have to feel honored. His career was my childhood dream, so it makes perfect sense that people would think that this is how I would think .

Unfortunately it’s not. Perhaps it’s because of the indepedent rock/hip-hop I listen to, but I tend to eschew from the obvious, even for something as trivial as this. My answer is simply this: I’d want to be Shane Lechler. If you do not know who Shane Lechler is, it is not because he is a mediocre professional athlete. On the contrary, he is an all-pro. His wikipedia site says he’s been the best at what he does since he entered the NFL in 2000. Shane Lechler is an all-pro punter.

Most guys will assume I’m joking. Being a punter is a pretty thankless job, there’s no glory to it. Fans hate it when their punter comes on the field because it means that the offense failed in moving the ball down the field and won’t be scoring any points. The punter coming onto the field is like getting notice that you’re going to be audited by the IRS. It’s just bad news.

But when thinking about who I’d want to be, it’s not what you think as a fan, or at least it shouldn’t be. I wouldn’t want to be Kobe because he has been branded a cheater and I’m sure his marriage is really awkward. I wouldn’t want to be LeBron because he has to spend so much time promoting Sprite and the five million other things he endorses. At least as Shane Lechler, I could probably walk into the market and be left alone.

No one wants a punter’s autograph and you never see a punter on a billboard. And don’t for a second think the the guy is hurting for money. He gets paid 1.5 million per season AND he gets a paid trip to Hawaii every year for being a pro-bowl punter. How sweet is that? Not to mention the fact that he can walk around downtown San Francisco totally anonymous and enjoy some amazing clam chowder in a bread bowl on the pier. Sure he doesn’t make Kobe money, but he also doesn’t have to constantly deal with being under the microscope.

I don’t want this to sound like I want to be a punter because it’s easy. It’s not, but as a punter, there are rules in place to prevent you from getting injured. This is very important to me. While punting the ball, opposing players will be penalized if they run into or tackle you. While it’s completely fine for them to hit a running back so hard that his helmet pops off, or hit a wide receiver while he’s in the air causing him to flip and land on his head, it’s not okay to hit a punter or a kicker while he’s in the kicking motion. Not to say that you’ll never get hurt, but it seems less likely. Many football players will suffer injuries that will stay with them the rest of their lives. This is also true of a lot of sports. Do you want to live the rest of your life with a metal plate in your hip or a rod in your leg? Do you want have to ice your knees constantly?

As a punter you also don’t have to deal with injuring your ego. Kickers have the pressure of winning games. Punters don’t win games (directly) and usually don’t lose games (directly), but kickers week in and week out are being blamed for a win or a loss, and because of this, kickiers are usually on a short leesh. Miss a big kick in a big game? Find a new employer. While Kobe and LeBron have job security if they miss a big shot, it must suck to turn on ESPN and see guys talking about how you choked 24/7.

I must admit being Shane Lechler is kind of a guilty pleasure. Punters aren’t typically expected to make tackles but if they do, they totally emasculate the guy they tackled. If you tackle a guy, he is immediately a pussy. How many jobs give you the ability to emasculate your opponent? If you find one, let me know, but until then, I’ll be dreaming of punting and the 1.5 million amazing perks that come with it.