Saturday, June 16, 2012

In This Very Moment I'm King

Apparently the stats (and the Gamemakers, if you think these playoffs were the Hunger Games) dictated that the Los Angeles Kings would win this Stanley Cup. I like the Kings, but I had no idea it would happen. If I did, I would have bought an old-school LA Kings fitted cap like the ones worn by gangsta teenagers I saw on the bus.

When I started watching hockey just a few short seasons ago, the Kings were a joke. I know this because at the time, I looked up their season stats on Wikipedia(!) and saw that they had won less than half of their games, and even I knew that that was bad. I joked that if I ever moved to LA, I would keep my allegiance to the Canadiens and just pretend to be a Kings fan by saying things like "Did you see the game last night? It's too bad, huh?" without actually having seen last night's Kings game. (At the time, I didn't know that not everyone in LA watches hockey.)

Then something weird happened. I went to a game at Staples Center, and (like a good guest) respected everything about the Kings, even the super-mean old guy who kept screaming "Choke, Habs, choke!" at nothing in particular. I think it was because I had such great seats. And because Drew Doughty had just won a gold medal. And because my friend was right about Anze Kopitar: it was hockey love at first sight. I couldn't stop staring at him, because there was something about the way he played that was just amazing. I guess I was a little pre-emptive in laughing at this team whose website included a guide to the basics of hockey, and sent me an email to warn me that the game might sell out and there would be a lot of people there. (Like, thanks, Staples Center, but I'm from Montreal, and we're used to that sort of thing.)

Then I maybe watched the Kings when I got the chance, because they were on Hockey Night In Canada or because they were playing the Flames. Or maybe, as Czechtacular says, it was the purple on their jerseys and the fact that Kopitar was from Slovenia, which I had seen from across the water in Italy (and it's probably the closest I've come to a European hockey player's hometown.) And then I somehow started caring. I got to see them play the Habs two seasons in a row and was disappointed that I couldn't magically be in LA this season for a third consecutive game. I grumbled every time they made a move that I disagreed with.

I still remember how disappointed I was when I found out the black-and-purple jerseys were being replaced by jerseys with no purple on them. I still remember having no idea why the Kings would give up so much for Dustin Penner. I still remember the exact wine I drank to console myself the day I found out that Simmonds and Schenn were traded for Mike Richards. I remember sticking my face in my hands when I found out that Jeff Carter was a King. And don't even get me started on what happened when I heard the name "Sutter." I was losing faith in the favourite West Coast team that I couldn't admit I had. I was half-heartedly happy when they snuck into the playoffs, because at least I had one of my top two teams to cheer for during what I expected to be a short playoff run. I watched as many Kings games as I could, expecting each one to take them closer to elimination. But they never got that close.

So I got a little superstitious. I started wearing black and purple (again, with the purple!) on gamedays. I accessorized to match, because of my bizarre luck with sports team coloured bracelets. I hadn't picked them to win the first round in my playoff pool, so I continued to choose the team playing against them. (I may have sacrificed the Phoenix Coyotes in the process.) I couldn't even let myself utter the words "Kings," "win," and "Cup" in the same sentence. During a busy period at work I did everything I could to leave on time for puck drop, which isn't as easy as it sounds, but I'd hurry home, breathless, like a fool in love, because what if something happens? And despite everything I've said, I really like the Kings, okay?

And then it happened. All of the build-up, and the hockey fights, and the spectacle turned into a Stanley Cup win. The underdog story with the happy ending that all the sportswriters and Sunday night movies wanted. Dustin Brown, the captain that I had grown to love, and that everyone suddenly fell for during the playoffs, won a Stanley Cup. So did Jonathan Quick, the goalie that I cheered through a 50-something save shutout against the Detroit frigging Red Wings, and would not shut up about for days afterward. So did Anze Kopitar, whose play is just so amazing to watch and I don't even know how to explain why. So did Drew Doughty, the reason why I started loving this team in the first place (other than purple and Slovenia.)

Oh, and so did some guys that I don't really care about, but who didn't turn out to be so bad after all.

This year's playoffs ended so much more favourably than last year's did. It feels good to win. It must feel even better for the people who've given their undivided attention to the Kings for much, much longer than I have.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

I went to a baseball game, or something.

It's no secret that I don't watch baseball, because televised baseball is usually on at the same time as other things I want to watch (namely, anything more interesting than televised baseball.)

But I've long said that I wouldn't be opposed to attending a baseball game at some point, because I love live sporting events no matter what, and I remember having a great time at Expos games when I was a kid. So, my friend invited me to go to Toronto with her to watch the Blue Jays play the Boston Red Sox last week.

At the time, I didn't know that both teams were not having a very good season. I just knew that it was the team I've watched the most on TV playing against the team beloved by almost everyone I know. I also knew that a baseball game would be a great excuse to eat greasy food outdoors and tweet ridiculous things. I ended up eating greasy food indoors because weather didn't permit for an open roof, and maybe sitting sullenly for part of the game due to sleep deprivation.
I saw this man on our way to the game. I know I usually hate scalpers, but I made an exception for that particular one.

My first disappointment came when all of the jokes I've made about Toronto-based singer Shawn Desman singing the national anthems did not result in Shawn Desman actually singing the national anthems. What else is Toronto good for, then? Instead, I had to walk all the way up to the 500 level of the Rogers Centre (which, by the way, is the walk that never ends) and hear some other person sing the anthems while I thought about hot dogs and fries. And then, instead of getting down to business like hockey players do, the baseball players just stood around, chatting and tossing balls and whatnot after the anthems. But then they eventually started playing real baseball (or something like it.)

I was able to hear Yunel Escobar's name because the beginning of the game was so quiet that at one point I thought I was at a tennis match.

That tweet is to be read in the dopiest possible Toronto accent. Context:

I don't know why I can't stand that commercial, but I choose to take my juice-buying business elsewhere.

It was really exciting, compared to most of what had happened before that point.
Baseball players get to sit around, and then take their time walking up to the plate while they get their own walk-on music, like talk-show guests or cartoon villains. I wish I got that every time I walked into my office. So, yes, I spent the majority of this game trying to decide what my intro would be, and judging Jays players on theirs. (David Cooper is in my good books, thanks to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.)
Why, yes, apparently I AM a snob about sauerkraut.

You don't even have to guess Tomas Plekanec's face by looking at a picture of his goatee. If you're a Jays fan, you literally push a button and win a J.P. Arencibia jersey or whatever. Does baseball understand that its games are long and occasionally tedious, so it can afford to stretch out its in-game entertainment?

Presented without comment.

Oh! This part was really exciting. Bautista hit the ball and it just soared through the air and then the players actually had to be athletic. I would like to thank Jose Bautista for actually doing things in baseball.

I thought it was just a fancy stadium decoration, but no, you can book a hotel room and then just sit in it and watch the baseball game. No word on whether you can get peanuts and crackerjacks delivered by room service.

Someone please take me to another baseball game and get me really good seats, so that when Youkilis is at bat I can scream out "EXPELLIARMUS!"

I was quite tired by this point so the "I Want To Hold Your Hand" remix really upset me. What did the Beatles ever do to deserve such a thing?

Sitting on my right was my friend Laura. Sitting on my left was a family: what appeared to be a grandmother, a father, and two young grandsons who were the cutest. They had baseball hats and foam fingers, and they asked their grandmother what was happening during the game. She told them how many outs each team had, or who was winning and why. Basically, she was the greatest.

The seventh-inning stretch was not a stretch. It was some weird '80s-style calisthenics of some kind.

This was also exciting. The pitcher caught the ball and then ran all the way to first base to out the runner. (That was a poor choice of words.)

If someone can stop this trend of athletes with creepy beards that look like they're glued on, I would be forever grateful.

I would have asked this question even if I hadn't been awake for 11 hours at that point.

I always found it kind of odd that the most American of rock stars wrote a melody that was adopted by the most Italian of crowds. But then to hear both versions of the song played at a baseball game in Canada? That was just weird.

That's right - the Toronto Blue Jays' mascot is a bird named Ace. I repeat again that it is not Toronto-based pop singer Shawn Desman. And yes, the bird can dance. But I already have a favourite mascot.

I guess part of the reason why I get upset when people leave Habs games early is that Habs tickets can be hard to come across. And expensive. So I guess if you're sad that your team is losing, but you only spent $20 on a ticket, and you can go to another game anytime you want, you might as well just be a bad fan and leave.
I re-iterate that I did not leave the game early.

Mike Aviles of the Boston Red Sox tends to hit balls and then they go behind him.
I'm pretty sure that that is not how baseball works.

End of story. I don't care if baseball is more accessible than hockey, so long as you live in a city that has a baseball team. My city doesn't have a baseball team. It has a hockey team.
So I won't watch baseball on television. I will attend another baseball game if I get the chance*. I won't ever enjoy it as much as I liked those Expos games. Baseball games are just better when Youppi is in attendance.

*because I have to buy myself an ice cream that's served in a baseball hat bowl