Enforcing Distancing

During the first few weeks of the shutdown, it wasn’t unusual to see people shooting baskets at the Schiller Park basketball courts, or even playing a small pick-up game.  Some people objected to it, and made a big stink about it on social media sites.  Now the authorities have taken steps to make sure that no one can play basketball there — even if they bring their own ball and are shooting hoops by themselves, without anyone else within six feet.

During these extraordinary times, is sending some worker out to put wooden blocks on a basketball goal to prevent people from playing the game or shooting baskets a prudent health care initiative, or a weird government overreach?  Does anyone know how likely you are to contract coronavirus from playing a game of basketball?  How many of the older people with multiple health care conditions, who statistics show are most at risk of serious health consequences if they contract COVID-19, are out at the park shooting hoops and ready to be selected to play in a pick-up game?

Of course, you can argue that the young kids who were shooting hoops and playing in those three-on-three games might bring the virus home, where it might infect at-risk people.  Still, blocking the hoops seems awfully Big Brotherish to me.  What’s next?  Removing the picnic tables and their benches because people might congregate there?

South Korean Baseball

Because there are no live American sports to be broadcast — and people can only watch that Michael Jordan documentary so many times — ESPN has decided to start broadcasting games from the Korea Baseball Organization, the South Korean major leagues.  ESPN is hoping that American sports fans who know nothing about the Korean league or teams will nevertheless tune in to provide that taste of live sports they have been craving.

download__2_I don’t know beans about the KBO, but I enjoy reading about sports teams in other countries and, especially, the team names.  My favorite foreign sports name is the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, a Japanese team that doesn’t contemplate battling hams, but instead is managed by the Nippon Ham company — which is the cause of the curious name.  The Korean league apparently has a strong corporate element, too, with team names that include Samsung and Hyundai.

If you’re inclined to watch a game and are trying to decide who to root for, here’s a list of the teams in the league:  Doosan Bears, NC Dinos, Samsung Lions, Lotte Giants, LG Twins, Kiwoom Heroes, KIA Tigers, SK Wyverns, Hanwha Eagles, KT Wiz, and Hyundai Unicorns.  I like the rugged confidence of the Kiwoom team self-describing its players as “heroes,” and I also was intrigued by the Wyverns, the Unicorns, and Wiz, who obviously don’t care that they have the same name as an old Broadway musical and movie starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.  But if I’m going to watch a game I’m going to be pulling for the NC Dinos, just because their mascot is a formidable, long-necked dinosaur who looks like a cross between Godzilla and a bodybuilder.

Will American sports fans tune in the KBO — where games, apparently, will be played in empty stadiums with banners stretched across the seating area that depict fans wearing masks?  I’m guessing yes.  Baseball is baseball, and South Korea has produced a number of players who have made it to the American major leagues, so the talent level is undoubtedly pretty good.  And the players might be trying even harder than usual if they know that American fans, and American scouts, will be watching.

Go Dinos!

 

The Hardest Comeback

Many businesses are going to have challenges when they return after the state shutdown orders expire — a process that is increasingly occurring across the country.  People who have been lectured repeatedly about social distancing and who have refrained from shaking hands or having any close proximity interactions with anybody who isn’t already living in their house may be skittish about throwing that all aside and, say, sitting right next to total strangers and sharing a public bathroom at a basketball game.

635667958347229965-bowlingI think one business may have the biggest challenge of all:  bowling.  When you think about it, it’s just about the most communal activity for the general public that we’ve got.  It’s indoors.  You bowl on a lane right next to people you’ve never seen before and will never see again.  And– get this, germophobes! — you share alley balls and their hard surfaces with other members of the general public, and you stick your fingers into the same finger holes that other unknown people have used.  All of those balls travel on the same lanes and go through the same ball retrieval devices.  Even more, you share shoes with total strangers, too!

In short, bowling has a potentially dizzying amount of communication vectors.  It makes you wonder if Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, dazzling scarves flying, have ever gone out to the local alley to try to throw a strike or pick up a spare.

Bowling isn’t alone, of course,  Any bars that have communal games — like bocce, or cornhole — are going to see the same issues.  How are people going to react to going to the community swimming pool and jumping in the water that’s also occupied by some germy-looking kids and that dubious guy lurking over at the pool’s edge?  Will people go to concerts, or participate in that fun trivia night at their local tavern?  Are cheering parents going to be maintaining social distancing in the stands at their kids’ baseball and softball games, and are they going to insist that the kids can’t give each other high fives?

The health experts want us to remember these social distancing rules and continue to adhere to them, even if coronavirus goes the way of the dodo, because it will help to prevent the spread of the flu — a yearly occurrence that is deadly for some but that we’ve all come to accept as a risk.  Lots of businesses, on the other hand, hope that we promptly forget all that and get back to having fun with people in crowds.  Something’s gotta give.

 

The Squirrel Game

Yesterday morning I took a double lap around Schiller Park.  It was a bright, sunny morning, and lots of neighborhood dogs had brought their human pals to the park for a romp through the bright green grass.  Many of the dogs were off the leash.  That meant I got to watch some of the Squirrel Game.

For those not familiar with it, the Squirrel Game is played at Schiller Park on any sunny day.  The contestants are dogs and squirrels.  The squirrels venture out onto the grass.  The dogs see the squirrels and then take off in hopes of actually catching one of the furry critters.  The squirrels see the dogs coming and easily make it back to the safety of the trees, sit on a tree branch, and then taunt the dogs with a death stare like you might see in the NBA after one player posterizes another with a particularly nasty dunk.  

I would be willing to bet that, in the  storied history of Schiller Park, no dog has ever actually caught a healthy adult squirrel.  Nevertheless, their DNA compels the canines to keep trying, not matter what — which makes the Squirrel Game pretty entertaining to watch.  In fact, with people suffering from severe sports deprivation these days, what if there were a live broadcast of the Squirrel Game to help fans try to scratch that sports itch?

Play-by-play announcer:  Welcome to Schiller Park in Columbus, Ohio, for week three of the Squirrel Game!  It’s a beautiful day for squirrel chasing, and we’ve got a full slate of contestants ready to engage in a fruitless interspecies exercise.  Jim, do you think that this just might be the week where a dog actually catches a squirrel?

Color guy:  Not a chance, Frank!  But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be a bunch of representatives of man’s best friend who don’t believe that this will definitely be the day when they actually catch a squirrel, and they are willing to run themselves into panting exhaustion in hopes that their dreams will be realized.

Play-by-play announcer:  Well, hope springs eternal!  And we’ve got our first contestants ready to go.  Bosco and Skippy have moved away from their tree out onto the grass, and Missy, an overly groomed Shih Tzu wearing an embarrassing pink bow in her fur, has just been let off the leash by her human.

Color guy:  Our audience will remember Bosco, of course.  Like every squirrel in the park, he’s never been caught or even put into remote physical peril by the neighborhood dogs, but Bosco is a crowd favorite because of his exceptional taunting moves.  He’s been training Skippy, so we’ll get a chance to see how that is going.

Play-by-play announcer:  The squirrels have moved pretty far away from their tree to give Missy extra hope.  Bosco has dug up some kind of nut and is munching away on it, while Skippy is twitching her tail, hoping to attract Missy’s attention.  That’s one of Bosco’s patented moves, and it looks like Skippy has mastered it.  Wait a minute — I think Missy has seen them!  Yes, and she’s taken off!  Here we go!

Color guy:  Really bad form by Missy, Frank!  She’s started running much too early, and she’s not very fast, anyway.  You’d think dogs would have learned by now that if you really want to catch a squirrel, you need to sneak up on them.

Play-by-play announcer:  Well, they are dogs, Jim.

Color guy:  Yes, they are, which is why they never have a chance but still happily try.  Bosco and Skippy have noticed Missy heading their way, and Bosco is calmly taking a few extra nibbles on that nut and waiting until the last minute, giving Missy even more hope that this might actually be the day that she catches a squirrel.  And Missy has taken the bait, and is running at top speed.  Look at that pink ribbon fly!

Play-by-play announcer:  That’s why Bosco is one of the true all-stars.  He always gives the dogs hope before crushing their expectations like a discarded soda can.

Color guy:  You’re right of course, Frank!  And now Bosco and Skippy are engaging in some very nifty broken-field running to get back to their tree.  Some great moves from the savvy veteran and the rookie there!

Play-by-play announcer:  They’ve easily made it to the tree, leaving Missy back in the dust.  And now Missy has finally reached the tree trunk and is yapping and acting like she’s protected the human world from the scourge of the squirrel menace.

Color guy:  You’ve got to give Missy credit for trying to put a happy face on a pretty dismal effort, Frank!  She didn’t even come close, not by a long shot, but her posturing and irritating yapping shows she’s a real pro.  

Play-by-play announcer:  Bosco has caught Missy’s attention again, and is giving her that famous Bosco stare.  Jim, I’ve seen it countless times, and it still gives me chills.  And wait, Skippy is joining in!  A double stare!  And now Bosco is going back to munching on that nut, showing Missy and our viewing audience that he is totally undisturbed by the entire episode.  You’ve got to give him credit for showmanship!

Color guy:  Of course, Missy doesn’t realize she’s been dissed.  Being a dog, she’s pretty much oblivious to everything except the chase.  And now she’s trotting back to her human with a very self-satisfied air, having seemingly forgotten Bosco, Skippy and the entire embarrassing episode.

Play-by-play announcer:  Time for a commercial break.  When we return, we’ll be seeing Shultzie, a morbidly obese dachshund, try to catch Tinkles, a fan favorite with a white streak in her tail.

Color guy:  Ha ha!  I love to watch fat dachshunds try to run.  Don’t miss it, folks! 

Starved For Sports

Yesterday the National Football League draft broadcast set an all-time record for viewership.  And it didn’t just sneak past the prior record, either — it obliterated it.  Some 15.6 million people tuned in to watch the draft, which is 37 percent more than the number of people who watched the 2019 draft.

5ea250d00ec19.image_Gee, I wonder why the viewership numbers went through the roof?  After all, the NFL draft is normally one of the most overhyped, boring events imaginable, with a bunch of delays between picks and countless talking heads yammering about the best player still “on the board.”  And this year, where all of the participants in the draft were carefully maintaining social distancing and sheltering in their different houses, there was even less drama than normal.  No rational person would spend hours watching the NFL draft — unless it turns out to be the only live event for a major sport in, say, six weeks, and a bunch of sports-starved Americans are dying to watch something, anything, that wasn’t recorded in 1988.

I’m guessing that the rest of the NFL draft will set records, too — because what else are you going to watch?  And if some of the lesser sports want to increase their fan base, they might just decide to put on some made-for-TV event that allows Americans to satisfy their lust for sports.  Badminton?  Curling?   Bocce?  They all allow participants to maintain some appropriate distance, and yet also involve that essential element of competition.  At this point, the true sports nuts would probably be willing to watch two geriatric guys at some retirement center in Florida play a death match on the shuffleboard court.

The interesting thing about the NFL draft is whether the extraordinary ratings mean anything about what fans are going to do when the restrictions are lifted and sports begin to actually be played again, in arenas and stadiums.  Will they go watch live, or has weeks of social distancing caused them to want, instead, to only watch the games on TV?  I’m guessing that there’s a fair number of people who will happily don their masks and go to see their favorite team play — especially if its an event that is played outdoors.

Mayor Mike’s Super Bowl Selfie

Facebook can be pretty jarring these days.  You’re scrolling through posts about your friend’s great trip to Italy, or the impressive honor a colleague received from her alma mater, or the fine paintings other friends have created, or pictures of kids and dogs and home remodeling projects . . . and then suddenly you’re confronted with overt political ads.  They stick out like a sore thumb.

Consider this Facebook ad for former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg that appeared on my news feed recently.  He apparently has bought ad time for the Super Bowl game, but he wants to encourage people to go to some other page to see the ad even before game time — and as a result the friends on Facebook have to see this crudely photo-shopped image of a grim Mayor Mike staring into the distance, sleeves rolled up as politico sleeves always are, towering over a football stadium, with his foot on a football.  It’s like a gigantic political selfie.  (And it might be tone deaf, besides — if you’re a football fan, you certainly don’t think that anyone is bigger than the game itself, and if you’re not a football fan, you probably don’t want anyone to remind you that the Super Bowl will be dominating water cooler conversations come Monday.)

Facebook has always been a political forum of sorts, as people have posted comments and memes about the political events of the day.  But we seem to have moved into a new era where it’s not just Facebook friends posting their political views, but also the candidates themselves barging into your news feed.  It’s like a group of people standing and talking and minding their own business when an overly caffeinated campaign volunteer butts in and starts pushing fliers into your hand and talking about how awful the opposing candidate is.  To me, at least, overt Facebook political ads like Mayor Mike’s Super Bowl Selfie seem awfully intrusive, and not effective for that reason.

As time has passed Facebook has become a lot more commercialized and ad-oriented, and now it’s becoming more politicized, too.  I prefer the old dog and kid photo days.

 

Best In The State

What makes a great sports bar?  You know, the kind of place where you want to go watch your favorite team play a game?

screen-shot-2016-06-04-at-2.58.35-pm-470x220-1Clearly, there are some basic elements.  Great sports bars aren’t white tablecloth and fine china venues.  You’re looking for tasty food favorites at reasonable prices, an ample selection of beers to stoke your competitive spirit, and a friendly and attentive wait staff that won’t leave your glass bone dry during the key part of the game.  You want to have plenty of TV screens in the room, so any table or chair will have good sight lines to the screen carrying your game of choice.  And, equally important, you’re looking for an energetic atmosphere and a setting with lots of fans watching their games, where you won’t be shushed for letting out a cheer, giving a few high-fives, or blurting out a random curse at a bad play.

Whatever the qualities that make a great sports bar, JT’s Pizza & Pub here in Columbus clearly has them all.  The MSN website just named JT’s the best sports bar in Ohio.  Given the sports-obsessed culture in Ohio, that’s incredibly high praise, but it’s really not surprising.  JT’s has great pizza, appetizers, wings, and sandwiches — exactly the kind of fare you want from a sports bar — an extensive beer and drink menu, and a raucous atmosphere come Game Day.  Stop by for an Ohio State game, an NFL Sunday, or March Madness if you don’t believe me.

Congratulations to my nephew Joe, the proprietor of JT’s, and my nephew Danny, who works there, for making JT’s into a sports bar that has won Best in the State honors.