Baseball Playoffs Under Way

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Like everyone else, I had my reservations when MLB moved to it’s 2 wild card playoff format. It seemed silly to settle 162 games worth of competition over a 1-game playoff. But starting tonight baseball fans get to enjoy three straight win-or-go-home contests and I think it’s fantastic.

It feels right – the division winners were rewarded with a 5-game series and three days off to get their rotation in order. The tiebreaker in the AL means one team will have to win 2 straight one-game playoffs to advance to the Division Series. The manager’s will be forced to manage these one-game playoffs like there’s no tomorrow and it’s going to be great theater.

October baseball has arrived. Both the AL and the NL Wild Card games feature great pitching match-ups and intriguing story lines. The most intriguing has to be the fact that Pittsburgh will host a postseason game for the 1st time since 1992. These next three days are going to be a lot of fun.

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Farewell Mo

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Tonight was a special night at Yankee Stadium. The mathematically eliminated Yankees lost to the playoff bound Rays 4-0 but the sellout crowd didn’t care one bit about the outcome. September 26, 2013 was all about Mariano Rivera and his final appearance in the Bronx – and it was a baseball moment and I am thrilled to have witnessed.

Mariano’s farewell tour has been going on all season with tributes and honors from every team. He was the main event at the All-Star Game at Citi Field, taking the field alone while receiving a standing ovation from players and fans alike. The Yankees had Mariano Rivera day on Sunday and even retired his number 42 before his official retirement. Mo was humbled by all of those honors but after all of those events, there was still more games to play.

Tonight was different though. After tonight, he would never pitch at Yankee Stadium again. The game had that playoff atmosphere that the Bronx usually has this time of year except that the Yankees will not be in the playoffs. All of the energy in the building was for Rivera and by the time he started warming up in the 7th, everyone in the building was ready for their chance to say goodbye. So, I settled in to watch the greatest closer of all time, one final time.

Of course he retired all 4 batters he faced. Then something unique happened as Pettitte and Jeter walked to the mound with 2 outs in 9th to take Mo out of the game. The reality of the situation began to sink in and Mariano became overwhelmed with emotion, crying on Pettitte’s shoulder. #42 received multiple standing ovations and he grabbed some dirt from the mound after the game. The fact that it wasn’t a save didn’t matter – it was still a perfect tribute to a great ballplayer and an even better person.

I’m a Mets fan but I’ve never hated the Yankees and I’ve certainly never hated Mariano. He deserves all of the recognition he has received and I am happy to have watched him pitch over the past two decades. I watched his whole career and he’s one of the first legends to retire that I can say that about. So I took it all in.

There was a palpable finality to the night. Everyone in the building was there for one reason – to say goodbye to Mariano. So after it was all over, a sadness seemed to come over the fans. The realization that someone else will be pitching in the 9th inning next year was hitting home. It was a special night and as a baseball fan, I am happy to have watched Mariano’s final home performance. It’s a part of baseball history that I will never forget.

SNL adds 6 New Cast Members

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When Saturday Night Live premieres on September 28 (with Tina Fey as host), it will be a very different looking show than last season’s finale. No more Armisen, Sudekis or Hader and head writer Seth Myers is on his way out to take over Late Night. To fill the voids, NBC announced 6 new additions to the cast and there is some real potential in the group.

Beck Bennett is the most recognizable new cast member. He’s the guy from those AT&T commercials talking to the young kids. His web series “Fresh Perspectives,” which got him the AT&T gig, has had some hilarious installments and I like his straight man approach.

Bennett’s friend and performing partner from Good Neighbor, Kyle Mooney is also joining the cast, giving us another potential Lonely Island situation. People who are used to writing and performing together usually churn out solid sketches and I’m sure they’re thrilled to have the much larger forum.

Mooney could be the breakout star. I didn’t know anything about him until watching a couple of YouTube clips, but I loved everything that I have watched so far. Please watch all 4:54 seconds of this sketch entitle “Toast.” You won’t regret it.

I also couldn’t stop laughing at this man on the street Lakers video…

Other newcomers include Brooks Wheelan, John Milhiser, Noel Wells and former SNL writer Mike O’Brien and they all seem like worthy choices based on my quick googling of each. Wheelan is a stand-up comedian from LA and he has a great bit about In and Out Burger. Wells does a perfect Zoey Deschanel impression and Milhiser was involved in a very funny patty-cake themed parody of the Step Up dance movies. O’Brien has been around the show since ’08 and his 7 minutes in heaven YouTube show proves that he can handle saying words on camera as well as writing them.

The only disappointing news out of these new hires is that cast member Tim Robinson has been demoted to writer. Robinson had very little to do on the show last season but according to Bill Hader and other cast members, he would have everyone on the floor during Wednesday’s table reads. Hader also predicted he would be a breakout star this season but it looks like that won’t be happening yet. He will still be obviously be writing and hopefully Robinson can work his way back into the cast.

It’s an exciting time for SNL. There has always has a lot of turnover and it’s in these transition years that breakout stars emerge. I remember like it was yesterday when Samberg and Hader started and how quickly they made names for themselves. I’m sure people will complain that it’s not as good as it was because that’s what always happens but there’s lots of potential here and I’m excited to see what the newbies bring to Studio 8H.

Manning Bowl III

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You always want to beat your older sibling, whether you’re playing a game of checkers or a football game on national TV. Eli will be competing against his older brother in the latter on Sunday and he is looking for his first win against Peyton. The Giants need a W too to avoid starting 0-2 for the 1st time since ’07. Yes, we won the Super Bowl that year but only 11% of teams who start 0-2 make the playoffs.

The Broncos looked amazing in Week 1 with Peyton throwing for a record 7 touchdowns. But that’s not going to happen on Sunday and if the Giants can take care of the football, then I give them more of a chance in this game then most. Last week was a brutal loss mostly because even after turning the ball over 5 times (unacceptable), we still should have won the game. I wasn’t very impressed with the Cowboys and I feel that we gave them that game.

The thing that hurts most about giving away a game is that every game is so pivotal, even Week 1. Last year we missed the playoffs by one game and I fear that if we have a similar fate this season, it will be hard not to look back at that game in Dallas and wonder what could have been.

Hopefully that won’t be an issue though and there were some good things to take away from last week. The defense played better than expected – don’t forget Dallas had a pick 6 and was handed the ball in the red zone 3 separate times thanks to other turnovers. The offense is explosive and Ruben Randle looks to be a competent third receiver.

Obviously, the Giants need to improve in the turnover department as well in the running game. The return of Brandon Jacobs should help there along with a motivated David Wilson. I expect him to hold onto the ball with a kung fu grip for the rest of the season. Our linebackers are another concern, especially with Dan Connor out for the season, but every team has weaknesses. We can overcome those and it starts this week.

Peyton is 0-2 vs Eli but Eli is in his prime right now. Somehow, Peyton also appears to be in his prime even though he is fresh off multiple neck surgeries at age 37. He’s a freak and if Eli has half of the longevity his brother has, then we are lucky.

It will be hard to slow down the Broncos offense, especially when they run the hurry-up but I expect our offense to keep pace. This is likely the last time they will go head-to-head against one another. Eli deserves at least one win against his older brother right? If he doesn’t get it now, I’ll take solace in knowing that they are just setting up for a Manning Bowl Super Bowl at Metlife Stadium in February. Like I said, last time we started 0-2, we won the Super Bowl.

And don’t forget, you can watch the game on your phone!

Wow Jimmy Kimmel, Nice Work

Jimmy Kimmel won the Internet. The video of the girl catching on fire while twerking was everywhere and like everyone else, I believed it was real. It was the only thing people talked about for a 48-hour period.

Here’s a quick story to highlight the ubiquity of this literally viral video. A friend of mine was waiting for a friend in the lobby of an apartment building and he overheard screams coming from a computer facing away from him. He walked up to the doorman behind the desk and asked “Is that the girl twerking who catches of fire?” The doorman said yes and they both laughed and watched the video again together. All he needed was the audio to recognize it.

Some had suspicions that the video was fake but I thought it was 100% real until last night when Jimmy Kimmel revealed it was all a prank performed by a stuntwoman. Brilliant. I can’t say enough about great this is. I can only imagine what Kimmel and his writers were thinking as they watched the video rack up 9 million views.

The news coverage by virtually every day-time and evening talk show, which he highlights after the reveal, is hilarious. Not just because they were duped into thinking the video was real but because “Twerking Fail” was written in teleprompters and graphics generators across the country. (As Kimmel notes, good thing there is nothing going on in Syria right now).

It was the perfect prank and it was executed flawlessly. Kudos to Kimmel and the stuntwoman. You had everyone fooled and now you get to bask in the reveal that it was all a joke.

Giants Kick Off 2013 Season Tomorrow Night

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It’s that time of year again. The Giants kick off their 2013 season with a big divisional game against the Cowboys tomorrow night. Week 1 is full of so much promise and a win over our division rivals, in their building, would look and feel really good. Eli has played amazing at the new Cowboys Stadium – in fact, he’s never lost there.

We know what we will get from Eli tomorrow night. Entering his 10th year in the league, Eli has already proven himself to be an elite quarterback. This year, the big question mark for the Giants is the defense. JPP is not 100% and we’re a safety down already with the loss of Stevie Brown in the preseason. Overcoming injuries will be crucial this year and it’s something that we couldn’t really overcome last year.

The Giants were a really good team in 2012 but our poor defense coupled with injuries and a brutal schedule kept us out of the playoffs. Making defensive adjustments, facing a little easier schedule and hopefully avoiding injuries has me optimistic for the season. Also, hopefully everyone still remembers the sting of losing on Week 1 at home to Dallas last year and uses that as a little extra motivation.

Our offense should be really solid. Eli has Cruz, Nicks, a new tight end target in Brandon Myers, (hopefully) the emergence of Ruben Randle and a fiery David Wilson to spread the ball around to. I’m expecting tomorrow night’s game to be a high-scoring shootout, like the last couple of games we have played in Dallas. If we have an improved defense, like Perry Fewell has been saying we have, then we should win the game.

By tomorrow at 11 PM, we will have a lot of answers about the defense. The Cowboys are a respectable offense but they’re far from the best in the NFL. Our defense needs to do enough to slow them down because if they can’t, then we’re going to have serious problems against teams like the Packers, Seahawks, Niners and maybe even the Redskins and Eagles. So c’mon D, it’s on you tomorrow night. I can’t stand losing to the Cowboys so let’s start the season off right tomorrow night with a convincing victory.

Football is back! It’s a great time of year – we’ve 20 straight Sundays of football on tap. To quote Bart Scott… CAN’T WAIT!

What I’m Listening To

Lorde, also known as Ella Yelich-O’Connor, has been popular on the other side of the world for quite some time but she’s just bursting on to the scene here in the US. The New Zealand native is just 16 years old but what she lacks in experience, she makes up for with an amazing voice and tremendous songwriting skills.

Her songs are relatively simple, which helps accentuate her amazing vocals. I have always admired singer/songwriters and Lorde has really come up with some infectious melodies.  I find myself humming her singles ‘Royals’ and ‘Tennis Court‘ at all times throughout the day. She’s going to be one to watch in the future and I’m excited to hear her debut album, which is scheduled for a release this month.