The Birds Ate the Angels


A month ago, I visited Angel Stadium to watch Toronto Blue Jays ace David Price lead the Jays to a 9-2 shellacking of the Anaheim Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on a pleasant Friday night.

This game against the lone Canadian team in Major League Baseball was actually my second visit to Angel Stadium. Back when my family and I lived in California in the first few years of my life, my dad took us to watch the former California Angels play against Frank Thomas and his beloved Chicago White Sox. I was too young to remember the game, but I still have a California Angels mini bat from that game that would probably fetch $20 on eBay if I was desperate for pocket money.

I don’t know if it’s because the Angels were previously owned by the Walt Disney Company or if it’s because Anaheim is more suburb than city, but the atmosphere around Angel Stadium felt less edgy compared to other stadiums I’ve visited. Angel Stadium sits adjacent to the 57 Freeway; like any good tourist trap seeking attention, the Angels put up a giant landmark that looms over the freeway like a scepter, warning those drivers passing by that they missed the exit to Angel Stadium.


Ladies and gentleman, here is The Big A, which is simultaneously a terrible innuendo for a club once owned by a family-friendly corporation and a mark of shame that would alienate any Puritans from Hester Prynne’s village if they were teleported into the present to watch this game of baseball.

That being said, The Big A is still a cool piece of art on its own.

When driving into Angels Stadium, there is a straight line of booths staffed with employees to take your $10 for a parking spot, as if you’re driving into Disney World. (Can you believe parking is cheaper at Angel Stadium than Disney World?) Just like any good theme park in Orlando, the parking lot and the exterior of Angel Stadium was impeccably clean — well-painted parking stalls with cars inside the lines is almost too clean — but the effort they put into the presentation and crowd control was appreciated.

Once I took my seat in the 400-level seats along first base, everything that followed swung between extremely great or extremely poor. The view of the field and the outfield waterfall from my seat: great! The semi-filled stadium because traffic held everyone up: poor!

Even American Exceptionalism got tangled up in this pendulum. Before the ceremonial first pitch, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus swore in five Southern Californian enlistees into the Navy. (Great! Obvi!) The buzzkill came a few seats over to my right, where a graying, mustached, middle aged man in a black sleeveless shirt and a black cap, stood up and removed his hat for the anthems when they were announced. Right when he got up, the public address announcer reminded everyone that Toronto was in Canada; “O, Canada” would be sung before “The Star Spangled Banner.”

“O, Canada!” the anthem singer belted out.

Upon hearing those words, the graying man put his hat back on. That’s poor! That’s rude! That’s disrespectful! But right before the singer belted out “O, say can you see…” the great American to my right dutifully removed his hat and sung along in an high pitched, off-key voice and tainted the anthem for our section. What a patriot.

After the anthem and a long montage to Angels history — set to Train’s “Calling of Angels,” of course — the Blue Jays took up the mantle of embodying good baseball and the Angels handled the role of being the bad baseball team. Let’s start with Angels starting pitcher Hector Santiago, who took 30 minutes to get out of the top of the first inning. After Santiago struck out Jays leadoff hitter Troy Tulowitzki, the Angels pitcher walked the next three batters to load the bases, induced Justin Smoak to pop out for the second out, then walked Russell Martin with the bases loaded to gift the Jays a 1-0 lead. In the next at-bat, Angels left fielder Shane Victorino joined Santiago in the mess by dropping a catchable ball, and the Jays were suddenly up 3-0. Santiago gave up one more single to Ben Revere to load the bases again, but the next batter struck out.

At the bottom of the first, Jays ace David Price got the first two outs on only four pitches. Sure, Price then walked Angels star centerfielder Mike Trout — the only time Trout, who finished 0-3, got on base all game — but he got Albert Pujols to line out in three pitches to end the inning. (As a Cubs fan, I took a lot of joy in seeing Pujols go 0-4 that night.)

Sometime between the history montage and Santiago’s first pitch, a round man in navy blue carrying a scorecard and pencil sat down next to our gray patriot in the black hat. By the end of the inning, the man in navy dropped so many critiques of the team’s poor performance that our gray patriot in the black hat sought out a stadium employee to change his seat. Apparently our gray patriot in the black hat took offense to the constructive criticism that the man in navy spouted, and the patriot requested to change seats away from our navy-clothed guest. The gray patriot moving back two rows, so that he was now behind my row.

Man, don’t you just love exceptionalism?

Through two innings, Price threw 20 pitches, while Santiago was already on 64. Through 2.2 innings, the Angels had another dropped ball and accumulated two errors.


There was some good news for Anaheim, though, in the form of Roger Lodge. It was nice to know that he still existed after my Southern California news station, KTLA, let him go from the morning sports beat a few years ago.

By the fourth inning, the Jays led 4-0 and Angels fans were booing the devils supposedly playing in Anaheim red for such a sloppy game. The two Giants fans seated on the other side of my row happily joined in chorus of disapproval; A-plus trolling, guys.

Angels first baseman C.J. Cron finally gave Angels fans something to cheer about in the bottom of the fifth: he broke up Price’s no hitter with a double. Angels catcher Chris Iannetta knocked in a double of his own to score Cron, and now down 4-1, the Angels fans had hope, sweet, enticing false hope.

Then the Jays scored one run on the top of the sixth. In the seventh, the Angels had a third dropped pop up and the Jays knocked in two more runs. To their credit, the desolate Angels fans recovered their voices from the abyss in singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “Build Me Up Buttercup” during the stretch. They were immediately silenced when the Jays, seeing that a 7-1 lead after seven innings wasn’t enough, knocked in one more run in the eighth. At 8-1 and Price cruising, I was ready to ditch this boring game early and get myself some Milky Buns in nearby Tustin, but Price gave up a solo home run to Angels right fielder Kole Calhoun, who knocked it into the waterfall.

The fireworks shot up and celebratory music that blared out in this hopeless game was the saddest thing I saw all game.

Toronto took back that run in the ninth after Victorino, because they are a vengeful offensive juggernaut. You get one out of us and we’ll retaliate immediately. (I personally find their play unsustainable for the playoffs, but with that pitching staff, maybe the bats can afford to take a few October nights off.)

At the end of the night, only Jays right fielder Jose Bautista and second baseman Cliff Pennington failed to record a hit against the Angels. Pennington was the only Jays player to not reach base at all this game; Bautista walked once to reach base. Price went eight innings, struck out nine, and only gave up one walk on top of six hits. The Angels, meanwhile, went through five pitchers, gave up 11 hits, and tacked on three errors. At least the Angels can say that their box score covered it all.

I left after the Jays scored their ninth run in the ninth. As good as the Jays played, I needed the sweet sugary rush of churro ice cream in a donut to make up for the sour taste that the Angels’ poor play left when I exited Angel Stadium.

The Artful Dodgers


A book is the reason why I flew across the country to California for a third and final time last weekend, just so I could visit Dodger Stadium for the first time in my life.

Over the summer, I read Molly Knight’s The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse, which chronicled how the Dodgers nosedived into bankruptcy in 2011 under the ownership of Frank McCourt and rose again with the riches of the Guggenheim Group after the consortium — which included NBA legend Magic Johnson — purchased the club in 2012. The mismanagement of money by McCourt, the politics behind the Guggenheim purchase of the Dodgers, the Guggenheim spending spree on big-name earners, and resulting clash of egos in the locker room made this story an engrossing soap opera. By the time I finished Knight’s book, the captivating collection of characters in that locker room — from outfielder Yasiel Puig, who lived and played on the edge, to Zack Greinke, whose bluntness occasionally broached awkwardness — convinced me to check out the on-field product at their home.

In late July, I bought my tickets for this past Saturday’s game between the Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates — way too early to forecast whether three-time Cy Young lefty Clayton Kershaw, Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, or someone from the anonymous bottom three of the Dodgers’ rotation would start for Los Angeles. I must have had a horseshoe up mine when I bought that ticket two months ago, because Dodger manager Don Mattingly would hand Saturday’s start to Kershaw.

Dodger Cy Young Winners

Dodger Cy Young Winners

Dodger MVP award winners

Dodger MVP award winners

Dodger Stadium, nestled just north of Downtown Los Angeles, opened in 1962. As the third oldest ballpark (behind Wrigley Field and Fenway Park) for the eighth oldest MLB franchise, Dodger Stadium is loaded with numerous exhibits commemorating the club’s 131 years of existence. A mural of the eight Dodger Cy Young winners is on display on the Right Field stand; the franchise’s 11 MVP winners, including Jackie Robinson, grace the mural of the Left Field stand. Outside the Field level gates, a giant Gold Glove sits atop a pedestal that lists every Dodger who has won the award. Statues of the championship rings for the World Series-winning Dodger teams are also scattered outside those gates. Giant baseballs with the names and signatures of the Cy Young winners dot the Reserve level gates, while the Dodgers’ retired numbers stand outside the gates for the top deck.

There is a lot of history to look at, but there’s also a hidden listening exhibit permeating through Dodger Stadium. The words to keep your ears perked up for include this sentence: “Please have your tickets or cell phone open and ready at the gate.”

The only reason those words are exciting is because Vin Scully — the legendary 87-year-old broadcaster who has called Dodger games for 66 years, overlapping with the team’s days in Brooklyn — delivers the pre-recorded message telling fans how to get through security quickly so they can “make memories cheering your favorite ballclub.”

Baseball for Sandy Koufax's Cy Young awards

Baseball for Sandy Koufax’s Cy Young awards

Sculpture of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodger World Series ring

Sculpture of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodger World Series ring

Upon passing the gates and into the stadium, more allusions to Dodger history greet the fans. Images and logos marking milestones in Dodger history, such as the Dodgers hosting an All-Star Game or the anniversary of a World Series win, are painted outside each restroom. A number of concession stands sell Brooklyn Dodger Dogs in addition to the regular Dodger Dogs. The deference to all of Dodger history, from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, was perhaps best represented by the number of fans I saw wearing shirts or caps with the Brooklyn Dodgers’ “B” instead of the iconic interlocking “LA.”


At around 5 pm, I took my seat under the sun in Section 1RS, a Reserve level section located behind home plate and above the Vin Scully Press Box — its namesake behind the mic was directly below my section. I was so close to a living, breathing icon of baseball history, but I wouldn’t be able to see him. There was a way to compensate for that, though.

After the national anthem, I plugged my headphones into a $15 portable radio player I bought before flying out to Los Angeles, slipped the headphones into my ears, and tuned the radio to KLAC AM 570, the radio home for the Dodgers. I would let the Scully, the voice of the Dodgers, guide me through the first three innings of Saturday’s game. Although Scully does TV play-by-play for SportsNet LA, the locally blacked-out TV home for much of the Dodgers’ fan base because of a stupid distribution deal, KLAC simulcasts Scully’s broadcast for the first three innings of every game he calls. Starting in the fourth inning, ESPN SportsCenter alum Charley Steiner takes over play-by-play duties for KLAC, while Scully continues to provide his play-by-play to the few who are lucky enough to have a TV package that carries SportsNet LA.

Because Scully plans to make 2016 his final season in the broadcast booth, the thought of listening to this cultural icon for the first time in my life almost topped the appeal of seeing Kershaw on the mound. I wanted to hear why Scully is so beloved.

He didn’t have to say much to make me understand his appeal.

I don’t remember the first words I heard Scully speak, but I do know that his calm and understated voice immediately provided a soothing juxtaposition to the loud mass of blue that surrounded me in the stands. The steady rhythm at which Scully spoke only amplified how clean and crisp his voice sounded at the young age of 87. Siri and Cortana would envy the consistency of his delivery. Despite his age, he had the stamina to keep talking while holding your attention, eschewing the brief pauses acceptable for talk radio with stories taken from his years on the job or relevant stats, such as the ramifications for this game in the Wild Card chase between the Pirates and Chicago Cubs and Divisional race between the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.

As a living encyclopedia of the game, Scully spoke like he memorized passages from those mines of information. Scully usually introduced each player on the Dodgers and Pirates with a quick dossier that included that player’s country/state of birth, height, weight, history of teams he played in, and a random stat. His only quirk seemed to be shortening the Dominican Republic to simply “the Dominican” when he noted Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano’s birthplace and rise to the majors.

Scully the storyteller is on another level, though. When Pirates star outfielder Andrew McCutchen stepped up to the plate for his first at-bat against Kershaw, Scully easily threaded between providing the pitch-by-pitch action and telling the story of how McCutchen’s father drew an imaginary home plate in front of Andrew and told Andrew that home base had everything he loved — his mom, dad, personal belongings — and that it was Andrew’s job to protect the plate from the intruding baseball. Somehow, Scully finished his story and still transitioned seamlessly to capturing McCutchen’s line-out to right field.

The rich language of his storytelling transcended the boundaries of media; even though his broadcasts were for TV, Scully’s play-by-play was perfect for radio. Whenever the Pirates had men on base, Scully always noted when Kershaw entered the stretch before the delivery of each pitch. When the broadcast returned from an early commercial break, Scully described the “beautiful California sunset” over the mountains and forests surrounding Dodger Stadium, tracing how the clear sky at first pitch turned orange, and that the hues of orange in the sky were now giving way to blue and purple. That sunset was so gorgeous; the only place I’ve already visited in Los Angeles that tops Dodger Stadium for watching a sunset is the Hollywood Bowl.

Again, viewers watching him on TV could already see everything he was talking about — heck, I was at the game and I could see all this right in front of my face — but Scully’s attention to detail helped reproduce the atmosphere at the stadium for viewers at home and enhanced my appreciation of the sights and sounds I was taking in at Dodger Stadium.

The level of detail on McCutchen’s upbringing, or Kershaw’s delivery, or the sunset over Dodger Stadium is usually reserved for print, but here was Scully, articulating all that within the constraints of time and the action on the diamond. What a gift for him to have; what a gift for us that he’s shared his talent with the sports world for nearly 70 years.



Sunset into Night at Dodger Stadium

Sunset into Night at Dodger Stadium

It’s amusing that Clayton Kershaw’s bad day at the ballpark would be considered a great one for the typical MLB pitcher.

Kershaw threw 100 pitches over 7.0 innings, struck out 8 batters, and gave up only 3 Earned Runs. However, Kershaw still got the loss because he was responsible for the game-winning baserunner, who scored when reliever Chris Hatcher gave up a double to Pirates third baseman Aramis Ramirez in the 8th inning.

Despite the quality start, Kershaw didn’t get much help from his offense. Dodger 2nd baseman Howie Kendrick gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead in the 1st inning, then the LA bats just went cold after that. While Liriano began to shut down the Dodger bats, McCutchen gave the Pirates a 2-1 lead in the 3rd inning with a 2-out RBI double. (What a great duel Kershaw and McCutchen had. McCutchen went 1-3 against Kershaw, but in the end, his two RBI helped beat Kershaw.)

A whole lot of pitching dominance by Kershaw and Liriano carried the 3rd through the top of the 7th innings. In the bottom of the 7th, the Dodgers suddenly found themselves back in business after first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hit a single — the first Dodger hit in the game since a double by Justin Turner in the 1st inning. The hit woke the Dodger crowd up from its slumber; a playoff atmosphere stormed in and killed the near-silence and lame attempts to get the wave going.

“Let’s go Dodgers! Let’s go Dodgers!” the crowd chanted.

The next batter, Alex Guerrero, grounded into a force out that removed Gonzalez, then Corey Seager walked to move Guerrero to second. That set up perfectly for catcher A.J. Ellis, who ripped a double to score Guerrero and move Seager to third. The Dodgers and the crowd smelled blood. The chanting intensified, then turned into an angry flurry of “Boo” when Liriano intentionally walked Chris Heisley.

With one on and the bases loaded, Mattingly sent pinch hitter Austin Barnes in Joc Pederson’s stead. The cries of “Let’s go Dodgers!” resumed and Barnes repaid the faithful for their optimism by grounding into a double play to end the inning.

That was the moment the Dodgers lost the game. Pittsburgh seized its precious opportunity in the following inning.

Kershaw opened the 8th inning by throwing his 100th pitch and giving up a double to Greg Polanco, whom scouts once called a “sick giraffe” until he figured out how to blaze through the bases like a “healthy gazelle,” per Scully during one of his story times. After conceding the double, Mattingly gave Kershaw the hook, and the ace trudged back to the dugout with his head down, a sight that contrasted with the standing ovation the crowd gave Kershaw during his exit. Hatcher entered the game, intentionally walked McCutchen, then defeated the purpose of that walk by giving up the game-winning double to Ramirez.

Pirates set-up man Neil Walker shut down pinch hitter/Dodger elder Jimmy Rollins and the top of the lineup. Closer Mark Melancon finished the job in the ninth by getting Gonzales, pinch hitter Andre Ethier (who came into the game with an ovation almost as loud as the “Let’s go Dodgers!” chants in the 7th), and Corey Seager all the ground out.

The Pirates victory was not the result I wanted for my Cubs; Chicago defeated St. Louis and kept pace with Pittsburgh anyway in the Wild Card standings. But listening to the smooth voice of a Hall of Famer and seeing the unique wind-up of a future Hall of Famer made the cross country worthwhile. The only thing better than reading history is witnessing the story for yourself before everyone else writes about it.

The US Open Marathon


Disclaimer: This is more than 4300 words. Hit Control + F and type in “[****]” to find what you’re looking for:
[Arrival] – The Williams Sisters practice
[Match One] – Azarenka v. Lepchenko
[Match Two] – Wawrinka v. Young
[Match Three] – Pennetta v. Stosur
[Intermission] – Dinner Break
[Match Four] – Kvitova v. Konta
[Match Five] – Federer v. Isner
[Departure] – The 7 Train to Manhattan

The idea was great. To mark the unofficial end of summer on Labor Day, one of my best friends from high school booked us day and night session tickets for the US Open Round of 16 matches held at Arthur Ashe Stadium. We would watch five tennis matches, starting at 11 am under the sun with Viktoria Azarenka versus Varvara Lepchenko, until one of Roger Federer or John Isner won match point under the floodlights of Ashe Stadium in a match that was estimated to begin at 9 pm.

The annoying thing about ideas is when reality weighs in. The projected high for New York City on Labor Day was 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

This leads to Rule One, if ever you decide to ever undertake the same marathon we sat through on Labor Day: dress appropriately for the hotter daytime weather, not the cooler nighttime conditions. My buddy wore a white undershirt and cargo shorts. I arrived in Billie Jean King Tennis Center in red running shorts, a white Uniqlo polyester polo, and a blue Cubs hat. Although I was covered in the colors of Old Glory, the blocking of the red, white, and blue made me look like a rotated, walking version of the French flag.

The caveat for Rule One is that you’ll never win the battle against the weather. You’ll be sweaty and sticky to a degree that’s somewhere between wet poodle and a frog covered in mucus, but you can make it manageable for yourself if you don’t go enter the grounds like you’re on a date night in dress shirt and slacks or in jeans. But it’s New York — there’s always someone dressed in his Financial District salary for something casual like an outdoor sporting event.


**[Arrival] 10:34 am, Monday**

The US Open always lists the start time for the Day Session at 11 am for Arthur Ashe Stadium, but with the television coverage needing time to squeeze in a pregame show and the accompanying commercials, matches never start until 11:20 am. My buddy and I used the 50 minutes or so before first serve to check out the practice courts on the west end of the campus.

The entrance to the practice court is on the east end of the area, which means the courts count backward as you walk the section. Practice Court 5 is the first one you see, then Practice Court 4, and so on until Practice Court 1. On our near end of Practice Court 2, there stood Venus Williams in a pink top and white leggings, returning serves from one of her coaches. Venus was probably practicing her returns because her quarterfinal opponent was her sister, Serena, the complete player marching toward an historic Calendar Slam. We watched Venus return about 10 serves before we walked further west past Practice Court 1 and toward the gated press area, where ESPN and Britain’s Sky Sports News held their pregame shows, then turned around.



As my buddy and I circled past Practice Court 1 again to head to Ashe Stadium, I did a double take at the player wearing a yellow top and black leggings — Queen Bee — standing on the near court.

I almost walked by Serena Williams twice without realizing it.


It turned out that while Venus practiced returns on her own practice court, Serena hammered serves to her coach on the adjacent practice court at the same time. Even when they would be competing against each other the next day, the sisterly synergy between Serena and Venus continued during practice. Sibling bonds, what a beautiful sight.

Around 11 am, my buddy and I entered Ashe and climbed the stairs to the 300 level of the stadium for our seats. I committed to staying hydrated by purchasing a 750 mL bottle of Evian water from the concession stands, a cool $5.50 price to pay for not passing out under the sun. When I entered Section 307 to find my buddy for my seat, I made an amateur mistake: I ran up the stairs to my seat.

This leads to Rule Two: don’t overexert yourself. I let emotion — of being in the US Open, of memories of running stadiums at The Swamp when I was in college — take control of me when I ran up those steps. Sure, I arrived at my destination quicker, and sure, running up the stairs in a Cubs cap got a “Go Cubs!” from the cute brunette with a bob haircut (Oh! She’s holding the hand of the guy next to her. Got it!), but I already put myself in a hydration hole by turning my seat search into a workout.

Besides, the hours of sitting that’s put into watching the five matches plus the heat will be exhausting enough as it is. Don’t run because it’s tiring, but do use the commercial breaks to stand up from your seat and stretch the legs.


**[Match One] 11:20 am – Round of 16: Varvara Lepchenko v. Viktoria Azarenka**

Lepchenko (left court) v. Azarenka

Lepchenko (left court) v. Azarenka

A shadow engulfed the southern half of the court and most of the northern half, but our seats put us in the presence of the sun. It was hot.

Azarenka (Belarus) and Lepchenko (born in Uzbekistan, but now an American resident and citizen) both hail from former Soviet states, but where they now reside intrigued me. Azarenka, who came over to the United States to hone her tennis skills with the help of NHL goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, won two Grand Slams and channeled that success to a home in the millionaires’ playground of Monte Carlo. Lepchenko, who has had a more modest career, lives in Allentown, Penn.

Despite the contrast in fortunes, the two played a similar defensive game in the match. Azarenka and Lepchenko both set up shop along the baseline, working toward hitting shots that would paint the sideline and bounce away from the opponent at a shallow angle. Azarenka and Lepchenko both hit 19 winners and only three unforced errors separated the two players (Lepchenko had 19 unforced errors; Azarenka, 16). Timing is everything, and the timing of the errors and winners is why Azarenka won the match in a flattering 6-3, 6-4 in 1 hour, 38 minutes.

The match ended at 1 pm, but I already finished that bottle of water by 12:33 pm, when Azarenka was up 6-3, 3-2. It was shaping up to be a long day already.

The first bottle of water. Even though she withdrew from the US Open from injury, Maria Sharapova still had a presence in New York.

The first bottle of water. Even though she withdrew from the US Open from injury, Maria Sharapova still had a presence in New York.

Azarenka v. Lepchenko Match Stats


**[Match Two] 1:30 pm – Round of 16: Donald Young v. Stan Wawrinka**

Young (foreground) v. Wawrinka

Young (left court) v. Wawrinka

At 1:16 pm, I acknowledged the dominance the New York summer exerted on me. I bought a 591 mL Fruit Punch Powerade for $5.50. There goes $11 in just two hours.

The only men’s singles match of the day session came with a sentimental favorite: Donald Young, the unseeded American and former junior world number one. The mixture of nationalism and the underdog story — if Young defeated Wawrinka, Young would advance to his first career US Open quarterfinal — helped make this match the biggest draw of the three daytime matches my buddy and I sat through. However, Wawrinka, who defeated world number one Novak Djokovic in this year’s French Open, boasted “HOLY CRAP” power that Young wouldn’t be able to match.

The might of Wawrinka was on full display throughout the match. The tennis balls exploded upon contact with Wawrinka’s racket and zipped back toward Young. The one-handed backhand shots of Wawrinka looked like they were hit with a forehand. It was a bit frightening to imagine being on the other side of the net for those shots, even from the nose bleed point of view we had.

To Young’s credit, he showed no fear with an aggressive net game. It didn’t always work as well as desired, but he put Wawrinka in awkward positions multiple times to make things interesting for the Swiss player. The power play of Wawrinka earned him a hard fought 6-4 win for the first set — 17 winners to 14 unforced errors from that cannon of an arm — but that power made Wawrinka his own worst enemy in the second set.

As I learned from playing too much Gran Turismo as a kid, you sacrifice control when you increase power. The control that accompanied Wawrinka’s strength in the first set deserted him and gifted Young a 1-6 second set win on a platter. Shots flew all over the place and into the net; Wawrinka had 14 unforced errors to six winners in the second set.

The crowd thought that this was Young’s opening, that a combination of momentum for Young and total loss of control for Wawrinka would seal the upset. However, Wawrinka found the control that frustrated Djokovic at Roland Garros and cruised to a 6-3 third set win and a 5-4 fourth set lead to serve for the match.

Knowing that Young needed to break Wawrinka to stay in the match, the crowd gave Young a rousing ovation as the American stepped onto the court. Young responded to the adoration with an extra spring in his step, leaping in the air multiple times to get loose before play resumed. The glimmer of hope that the crowd hadn’t felt since the end of the second set returned after Young went up 0-15 with a shot that took a lucky bounce off the tape of the net. But Wawrinka demonstrated again that might brings fright when he won the next four points to take the match, with the winning shot coming from a strong forehand at the net to opposite sideline of Young.

Wawrinka won the match 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, in 2 hours and 10 minutes of play, but Young got an applause worthy of a winner as he exited Ashe.

On the hydration front, I finished that bottle of Powerade at 2pm; the match ended at 3:40 pm. Things should have gotten worse with how quickly that drink went. Thankfully, a shadow crept over our section and made it relatively cooler, so I didn’t need to go for any more cold drinks in the day session.

Wawrinka v. Young Match stats


**[Match Three] 4:05 pm – Round of 16: Samantha Stosur v. Flavia Pennetta**

Stosur (left court) v. Pennetta

Stosur (left court) v. Pennetta

The fatigue began to take over. My friend started to nod off and fall asleep. I had tennis fatigue, cabin fever in the stadium, and skipped lunch, so I just wanted the match to go in straight sets so I could grab dinner at a campus concession stand. That’s the good and bad thing about tennis: like soccer, the action is nearly continuous, but the timelessness of tennis makes it tough to accurately gauge when everything comes to an end.

Meanwhile, most of the crowd emptied out of Ashe and a number of the ones that remained ran over to the 300 level of the east side of the stadium to look out over the wall for a bird’s eye of view of neighboring Louis Armstrong Stadium. Over at Armstrong, Andy Murray was losing his Round of 16 match to South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, a 6’8’’ giant of a player.

Hope for us came in the form of Pennetta entering this match with a 6-0 lifetime record against Stosur, and a breeze and shadow that made the Cubs hat redundant. That lifetime record looked to be fraudulent, though, when Stosur quickly dashed to a 1-0 lead after rattling off four consecutive points. Pennetta grew into the game, though, and her defensive play invited the power-hitting Stosur to take her swings and hit into a glut of unforced errors.

In short, we watched what Stosur demonstrate what would have had happened if Wawrinka couldn’t rediscover how to keep the ball inbound against Young in the previous match.

Wawrinka showed how offense can win and Pennetta countered that argument with a 6-4, 6-4 win built on defense. The match, which took 1 hour and 18 minutes and finished at 5:23 pm, had a fitting defensive ending: Stosur ran to the net and hit a rocket of a forehand to Pennetta at the baseline, who replied with a soft shot that glided past Stosur and into the opposite corner of the baseline where Stosur stood.

Pennetta v. Stosur Match Stats


**[Intermission] 5:40 pm until 7:00 pm**

We survived the day session.

Granted, we were sore, sweaty, stinky, and sluggish, but the hard part of the day was finished.

After all that sitting, it was a joy to walk slowly through the crowds in the King Tennis Center. Important looking people in dress clothes with a badge hanging off a lanyard walked among us normal people just here to take in the festivities. Line judges, ballkids, and juniors tournament entrants also mingled with the crowd as they searched for a Ben and Jerry’s or a bottle of water, depending on whether or not they were done with action for the day. The sun began to set; the sky was a blend of cerulean and red-orange when we sat down for burgers and 500 mL of Evian water for dinner, bringing the grand total of a day’s hydration to $15.50 for 1841 mL of fluids.

This leads to Rule Three: after finishing that first purchased bottle of water, save it for free refills at the water fountains. I absentmindedly recycled my first bottle of water and Powerade bottle before my friend reminded me of the water fountains, but I made sure not to make that same mistake with the 500 mL bottle.

Predictably, I ended up not getting a refill of water at the fountains to stay hydrated. The cooler weather for the night session made me comfortable enough. Timing, again, is everything…


**[Match Four] 7:20 pm – Round of 16: Petra Kvitova v. Johanna Konta**

Konta (left court) v. Kvitova

Konta (left court) v. Kvitova

The start of the night session means that Ashe Stadium becomes the hottest nightclub in New York City, hosting a capacity crowd of nearly 23,000 people to strobe lights, amped up dance remixes, and the date night arrivals. The sky turned navy and then black while the nightclub pre-match hype continued. When the hype ended, the floodlights switched on and the business of tennis could continue.

The main song played at Ashe Stadium in the build-up for the marquee match of Federer v. Isner

We moved to Section 306, one section to the left of our day session seats and at the corner of Ashe. The majority of the crowd showed up on time in anticipation for the grand finale, Roger Federer v. John Isner, but was ready to devote its attention to Kvitova and Konta. A number of nighttime newcomers, however, hung around the eastern edge of the stadium to watch Murray continue to go down fighting against Anderson.

Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion and fifth seed of the US Open, has overcome the effects of mononucleosis to return to her high competitive level. On the other hand, Konta earned her spot in the US Open as a qualifier and went on a run that included an upset of ninth seed Garbiñe Muguruza to reach this stage of the tournament. Despite the disparity in seeding between Kvitova and Konta, it would be the most even match at Ashe we’d see thus far.

The story of this match was dominance on the service games. Kvitova, who always bounces the tennis ball four times before the toss, survived five break point situations, but captured all six of her service games in the first set. Konta, whose first serve starts with four waist-high bounces and a fifth knee-high bounce and whose second serve has one fewer waist-high bounce, actually fared better with just one break point situation in her six service games of the first set.

Unfortunately for Konta, the lone break point situation came when Kvitova was up 6-5 in the set. Unfortunately, again, for Konta, her only double fault in the first set came during that break/set point for Kvitova.

Timing is still everything.

The second set followed a similar script as the first set, with Kvitova and Konta dominating their service games. The service trouble in the second set found Konta earlier, though, when she was down 4-3 and trying to stay on serve to make it 4-4. Konta was ahead in the game, Kvitova clawed it back to deuce, then Kvitova immediately grabbed the Advantage.

And once again, Konta, whose serve was otherwise reliable in the second set, double faulted at the worst possible opportunity to hand Kvitova the game and allow her to serve for the match up 5-3.

Kvitova made quick work of Konta in that service game—heck, she didn’t even allow Konta a break point in the second set—to win 7-5, 6-3 at 8:30 pm in 1 hour and 28 minutes of play.

This was a perfect match, in that it was competitive, but still a straight set victory for one player. At this point of the marathon, I just wanted short, but even, matches just so I could return to the hotel and shower off 10 hours of New York summer sweat off my skin.

Kvitova v. Konta Match Stats


**[Match Five] 9:14 pm – Round of 16: Roger Federer v. John Isner**

Isner (left court) v. Federer

Isner (left court) v. Federer

John Isner was the visiting opposition for this Ashe crowd, in the Grand Slam that his native country hosts, all because the guy that would be playing on the other side of the net was Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time.

Isner, as an American, got a loud applause from the crowd as he entered the court under the Ashe strobe lights; the crowd gave Federer the louder rock star welcome to the court. However, Isner had one very vocal fan — wearing a Yankees cap, obviously — sitting in the section adjacent to mine, who always chanted “U-S-A!” or “BULLDOG!” (Isner graduated from Georgia) or “ISNER” whenever he felt the love for Roger got overbearing. Yankee man was clearly inebriated each time he stood up and professed his support for his compatriot.

This match-up seemed destined to be the present day equivalent to those Andy Roddick v. Federer duels back in the naughts. Federer, in white Nike apparel that would probably be within dress code of his hallowed Wimbledon, still possessed the precision and technique of a master at his older age. Isner possessed the big serve and power play that Roddick had — and they even shared Lacoste as the playing gear supplier. The 6’10’’ Isner reminded me of a behemoth in his navy garb.

Hey, Behemoth.

Hey, Behemoth.

Federer and Isner seemed to borrow the script from Kvitova and Konta — they were unbreakable. Federer, even with the unforced errors that were uncharacteristic of his peak, still hit those deceiving passing shots past a net-charging Isner whenever Isner managed a clean return. There were too many moments of magic from Federer to detail — whether the wizardry with the racket was on display through a one-handed backhand, a forehand, or an over-the-shoulder shot, those momentous shots oozed with flair.

Other times, Isner helped Federer out with a number of unforced errors into the net, which seemed to be the result of poor positioning by Isner. The American showed flashes of brilliance, but more often than not, those occasional successes were cancelled out by the inconsistency of putting himself in the right place for the right shot. There were too many times throughout the match when Isner had to shorten his reach just to make contact with the ball.

Isner, for his part, rocked Federer with first serves that reached as high as 138 mph. If the first serve failed, Isner relied on a second serve that hovered around 120 mph; Donald Young’s first serve usually peaked around 115 mph.

At some point, the US Open organizers had the brilliant idea to temporarily take away all the goodwill in this match and show Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez in the four video boards. The crowd welcomed him with an overwhelming boo while he waved twice into the camera.

The two men rolled into a tiebreak by holding all their service games, then Federer took over. Anderson defeated Murray at the Armstrong with a 7-0 tiebreak in the fourth set. Federer took a similar tact against Isner and also went 7-0 in the tiebreak to secure the first set.

My desire for a shower and to go to sleep intensified over the lengthy 45 minute first set, but Federer and Isner were intent on not deviating from the script of the first set. In fact, like good scientists trying to establish a theory, they succeeded in replicating the story of the first set in the second set. Federer continued to gracefully win his service games with that mix of art and deception, while Isner bulldozed his way through his service games. (This included Isner rounding up all his challenges in the third game of the second set — his second service game of the set — and burning through them in that game, like a parent frantically striking multiple matches to try and light the candles of his or her crying kid’s birthday cake.)

Once again, after 12 games in the second set, both men were tied 6-6 and off we went into another tiebreaker. At least this one, Isner remembered he could play well, and he contributed to some drama in the tiebreak. The turning point of the tiebreak came when Isner was up 5-3 and serving to go up 6-3. If he won this service point, Federer could win his next two service points, and Isner would still be up 6-5 and serving for set point. However, Isner lost that point to see his tiebreak lead fall to 5-4 and Federer seized the opening. Federer held off Isner with two brilliant winners to the sidelines to win the tiebreak 8-6 and go into the third set with a two set lead after hard fought 7-6, 7-6 set wins.

At this point, Isner’s lone loudmouth fan in the Yankees cap, overcome by the disappointment of Isner’s tiebreak struggles and the alcohol, turned on the American tennis player. “You haven’t done jack!” was one of the refrains Yankee man resorted to, despite Isner taking the greatest tennis player of all time to a tiebreak in each of the first two sets of a Round of 16 draw in a Grand Slam by simply going full throttle with each serve and forehand blasted at the Swiss legend.

Also in between sets, the US Open organizers atoned for showing A-Rod on the boards by highlighting Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott in the crowd. The crowd responded with a polite applause, but then ramped up the positive energy when they saw a successful engagement on the board a few moments later.

Even after plowing through the first two sets at the maximum number of games allotted, Isner was still breaking 130 mph with his first serve. Unfortunately for him, Federer was still finding ways to make the crowd gasp in awe. We seemed set for yet another tiebreak when Isner suddenly gave Federer a triple break point opportunity with the American down 4-3 in the set. Isner climbed out of the hole by overpowering Federer (what else?) to stay on serve 4-4 and put Federer in a 0-8 hole in break points for the match.  (Isner went 0-5 on break points the entire match.)

I was enjoying the match and the skill I saw, but the desire for a shower and sleep was strong. It was getting to the point where I wouldn’t object to a Federer break just to save us from the uncertainty of yet another tiebreak.

Wish eventually granted.

Federer and Isner each held a service game for a 6-5 third set and now Isner needed to hold serve to force the third tiebreak. The service game soon went 15-40, but Federer wasted another break point to go 0-9 on the night. On his 10th break point opportunity, Federer finally hit a timely winner past Isner — another stunner that got the crowd oohing and ahhing — and saved us all the madness of another tiebreaker.

Federer won 7-6 (0), 7-6 (6), 7-5 in 2 hours and 39 minutes, with the winning shot hit at 11:53 pm. Just like the Kvitova v. Konta match, Federer v. Isner was about as perfect of a competition as I could ask for: close, thrilling, yet still ending in straight sets so we can all leave Flushing Meadows before 2 am.

After 13 hours and 20 minutes — from the start of Azarenka v. Lepchenko until the end of Federer v. Isner — the US Open Marathon at Arthur Ashe was finally over. Destination: Manhattan.


Federer v. Isner Match Stats


**[Departure] 12:20 am, Tuesday**

How about that: my buddy and I entered Billie Jean King Tennis Center on Labor Day and left the grounds on a Tuesday morning. It felt like we were cheating because everyone else had to go back to work on Tuesday except us.

I could finally taste the cleansing water of the shower and silence of sleep, especially when we found out that the MTA runs Express 7 trains between Flushing Meadows and Manhattan just for the US Open.

The express trip took about 40 minutes.

At this point, I was apathetic to time. After nearly 14 hours in one location and 13 of those spent sitting under the sun and then the moon, I was content just standing underneath the AC vent in the subway car.

After walking back to the hotel, showering, then packing up some of the bag for checkout nine hours later, bedtime arrived at around 1:45 am.

That’s how 13 hours of watching tennis ends: in sweat, tears (from aiming your face at the shower head in a futile attempt to cool down quicker), and snores. If you can binge watch a show on Netflix, you can sit through an entire day of tennis under the sun. Just remember to dress for the hot weather, don’t overexert yourself, and use those water fountains to stay hydrated, and you’ll ace the endurance test.

As for me, I’m happy to watch the remainder of the US Open on ESPN plopped on my couch, with the AC on, eating a pint of ice cream because the bathroom is only a few steps away.


Dwight Gayle Goodbye to Murray

Aw, Dwight Gayle’s tweet gave me the feels.

There’s a certain level of detachment toward sports and my favorite teams that I have and pride myself on. What you could call jadedness is what I call perspective — watching these professionals and college athletes is a nice diversion from the mundane routines that dominate the 52 Monday through Fridays each year and the spectacles are always better when my team wins, but in the end, these sports are adults playing our childhood games for franchises in a unique entertainment industry. Enjoy the wins, enjoy the talent and skill of these athletes, but don’t beat yourself up too much over a loss and don’t become too emotionally invested on the names on the back of the uniforms.

That mentality is being tested right now.

In fact, it may be approaching a personal crisis level right now. Glenn Murray, the 31-year-old prolific striker whose 31 goals in 2012-2013 helped fire my Crystal Palace F.C. on the path toward the Premier League, left the club today for AFC Bournemouth after four years with the Eagles. The deal, worth 4 million Pounds for Palace and a three year contract with a pay raise for Murray, continues the transition that Palace is making from Premier League upstarts to a consolidated side in England’s top flight. Considering that Murray turns 32 later this month and is on the latter stages of his career, I found the move perfect: he gets one big payday and a better chance for playing time in Eddie Howe’s exciting Bournemouth attack and Palace gets paid a hefty sum for Murray’s age to cut a salary from the books.

But the nostalgia began to pour out of #cpfc social media when the move became official. On Facebook, I watched a 1:51 video of the most memorable goals scored by Murray, according to the club. I flashed a wide smile when the video showed Murray’s headed goal against Sunderland last season, one of the smartest goals I had ever seen. Murray wins a flick-on and the ball goes to winger Yannick Bolasie, who makes a wide run. Murray keeps running toward the box, though, charging toward the center of the box before changing directions and ghosting past the Sunderland defense toward the far post. Bolasie crosses the ball for Murray knock it into the net with a free header.

Then, I pulled up a five minute video created by the Palace communications team and shared by the independent Five Year Plan Fanzine, which showcased all of Murray’s goals from that 2012-13 season. Because of the virtually nonexistent television exposure that the English Championship gets in the United States, this was the first time I had seen the goalscoring prowess of Murray that captured the hearts of Palace supporters. As Murray demonstrated with that Sunderland goal, he’s a wizard — he just knows where and when to apparate somewhere in the six-yard box so he could hammer the ball into the net.

The videos that the communications staffs on sports teams put out normally don’t have an effect on me. They’re there to pump up the fans and inject a level of excitement and energy while they watch a match. (Or, if you’re at home, make you want to buy a ticket to a match so you can bask in the action and the deafening volume of noise in the flesh.) With the way ticket prices have soared in sports in my adulthood, I’m all for letting the fans be excited and making the most of the couple hours they have, especially since this may be their only trip this season to their beloved team’s home.

However, those two videos of Murray’s attacking exploits destroyed the chamber where my sentiment in sport is usually locked up. I began to feel a tinge of disappointment that Murray would no longer be wearing the Red and Blue; the valid, logical reasons for letting Murray go were now unacceptable.

I found myself clinging, wishing Murray could stick around to ride out one more season in the Premier League with my club.

It’ll probably take the rest of this week to accept the reality that he’s gone. And then after I’ve finally come to terms with it, I’ll turn on NBC Sports Network on September 12 for the Palace v. Manchester City preview, see my team warming-up for a few seconds, and then feel a wave of disappointment rise up and overtake my emotions when NBC switches to the warm-up for Norwich v. Bournemouth, with Murray shown running around in the black and red of the Cherries.

But in a way, I’m content with this bit of heartbreak. Thank you, Glenn, for the goals and the memories. And thank you for making me acknowledge that I am human, and that I can care about the individual whose name graces the back of the jersey as much as the club badge that graces the front.

The Frank Lampard Show

20150829_155931Above: Frank Lampard being announced in the NYCFC Starting XI.

When Frank Lampard lined up behind David Villa on the pitch at Yankee Stadium for Sunday’s New York City FC clash against the Columbus Crew, it ended a two year of quest of mine to attend a match that featured the former Chelsea midfielder.

This idea of seeing Lampard play in person came up only because the English midfielder was the captain of many of my Fantasy Premier League teams between 2005 and 2012, when he ranked up double digit totals in goals, assists, and clean sheet bonuses over the course of a season to carry my teams. Like his compatriot Steven Gerrard, Lampard starred as the box-to-box midfielder for his club in his prime until the mileage from aging slowed down the legs a step too much for the Premier League.

In this two year attempt to see Lampard play a match, the previous three opportunities I had to see him on the pitch were thwarted by random circumstances.

In 2013, Chelsea was scheduled to play a friendly against Liverpool in Yankee Stadium that would kick off after the Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. However, the English national team called Lampard up for a friendly that would occur a few days later, so he flew back across the Atlantic to train with the national team. A couple years later, the loan debacle between NYCFC and Manchester City delayed Lampard’s arrival in MLS from the end of the January 2015 transfer window until July 2015.

When it was Lampard’s time to finally land in the States, the normally-healthy midfielder arrived from Manchester in a crate marked “FRAGILE,” which some postal worker in England or the United States failed to heed.

Lampard was scheduled to make his home debut at Yankee Stadium in July against Toronto FC. However, a calf strain suffered in training two days before that match knocked him out of contention for the frenetic 4-4 draw against Toronto FC. (Everyone forgot about Lampard anyway when Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco grabbed a hat trick.) One month later, another injury suffered in training — a left quad strain — ruled Lampard out of that dumpster fire in Los Angeles where the Galaxy defeated NYCFC 5-1. This should have been the first Gerrard vs. Lampard match in MLS, but with no more matches scheduled between the two clubs in 2015 and NYCFC definitely not being a contender for the MLS Cup, the two will have to wait until 2016 for their first duel in MLS.

So when I checked the NYCFC Twitter account an hour before Sunday’s kickoff for the team lineup (sponsored by Coco Joy, because #branding), the first thought that came to mind when I saw the lineup was “Finally.” The sky blue Number 8 shirt that belonged to Lampard sat in the bottom left corner of the Starting XI graphic embedded in the tweeted lineup.


Lampard played a solid, but nondescript, 60 minutes of game time on Sunday. His track backs on defense weren’t as aggressive as you’d like from a midfielder, which left plenty of space along the flanks for Columbus to exploit with long balls over Lampard and Angelino, the left back who got caught pressing forward by those long balls. (NYCFC had the same problem along the right side with Mix and Andoni Iraola, because defense is shuddered upon in the Bronx.) Lampard also got muscled off the ball a few times due to a slower reaction time, but to be fair to him, it was his first match in almost three weeks.

On the other hand, it’s easy to see what NYCFC wants to accomplish offensively when Lampard, Pirlo, and Villa are together on the pitch. Those three stringed together a number of passes with their teammates to open up the Columbus defense, getting plenty of balls to the byline in the first half for Villa and Mix to cross into the box. Those crosses were often wasted, though, because there weren’t enough NYCFC attackers to overload the box or get in the right areas to meet the ball.

(On a note related to getting players in the right area: the giveaways from Pirlo this match seemed to stem from being on a different wavelength than his teammates. In the LA match, Pirlo was sloppy, just hitting the ball at Galaxy players marking the New Yorkers, but against Columbus, Pirlo played a number of chipped balls that sailed over his teammates’ heads. The problem was his teammates weren’t already running to where the ball would land when Pirlo sent the pass. For all of the dynamic potential the NYCFC attack has, the players still aren’t proactive enough in getting open before a teammate attempts a pass.)

The defensive frailty of NYCFC reared its ugly head again in the 10th minute, though, when Frederico Higuain had a free header off a corner kick to make it 1-0 Columbus. NYCFC almost responded a minute later when Lampard made one of those vintage runs into the box and shot the ball from about six yards out at an open net, but a Columbus defender stuck a foot out to deflect the ball for a corner kick. It would turn out to be Lampard’s biggest opportunity of the game; he pushed up a number of times throughout the game, but his role was mostly restricted to spreading out Columbus with some distribution from midfield.

The NYCFC began chanting for Kwadwo Poku — the man Lampard replaced in the starting XI — in the 28th minute, but those chants quickly morphed into cheers by a screamer of an equalizer. NYCFC right center midfielder Andrew Jacobson received the ball at about 25 yards from net and launched it on net when no one on the Crew closed him down. The swerving shot bounced off the palm of Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark’s hand and into the net.

It should have been 2-1 NYCFC at halftime after Lampard and Villa played a 1-2 on the left near the byline. The cross to the center was met by a Mix overhead kick that just went high.

The 15 minutes Lampard had in the second half weren’t enough to make an impact, but when his substitution was announced, he walked off the pitch to rapacious applause — for Poku, the player replacing him. The change didn’t have the desired effect. Similarly to Lampard’s 60 minutes, Poku played a solid 30 minutes where he strung together some passes, but nothing threatening resulted from them.

It wouldn’t be a NYCFC match without a defensive howler that proved to be fatal and this one came in the 83rd minute. A pass to (who I think was) Andoni Iraola rolled off his foot and into the path of a Columbus player, which started the counterattack that led to Justin Meram rolling the ball past NYCFC goalkeeper Josh Saunders and into the netting at the far post to seal the 2-1 win for the Crew.

The goal that defeated them was a soft one for NYCFC to concede, but it was a fitting ending for a team that still hasn’t learned how to defend well five months into a seven month season.

The Milky Buns

Tustin Milky Bun: Churro ice cream sandwiched between a non-glazed doughnut.

It turns out that there is a way to innovate that elegant dessert, the ice cream sandwich: Place that scoop of ice cream in between a doughnut.

Afters Ice Cream in Southern California (found in Fountain Valley, Tustin, and Chino Hills) gets the credit for creating this $5.00 avalanche of sugar and my sister, who scours the Southern California food scene through Instagram, gets the hat tip for introducing the ice cream shop to me. With the three locations open between noon and midnight, the Milky Bun can squeezed into any routine: the dessert after dinner, the weekly allotted cheat on your exercise and diet plan, or a late night snack.

I visited my first Afters at Tustin after watching the David Price and the Toronto Blue Jays demolish the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 9-2 last Friday at Angel Stadium. A short ten minute drive south of Angel Stadium via the 57 and 5 freeways, the line for this Afters location stretched outside the door, even though it was about 10:30 pm. Once customers make it inside the Tustin shop, a brightly-lit area with spotless white floors and quotes about ice cream on black walls, they snake through another line that hugs the wall before reaching the team of four working the ice cream dipping cabinet.

The majority of the 16 monthly flavors available went far and beyond the standard fare of vanilla, chocolate, and mint chocolate chip. For August, the Tustin Afters also rolled out churro, cookie butter, and jasmine milk tea flavors. Upon reaching the employees, all you have to do is politely ask for the Milky Bun with whatever flavor ice cream you want and your choice of one topping — think Oreo crumbs or sprinkles, for example — if you really want to make the treat a mouthful.

The long line inside gave me enough time to think things through and I chose the churro ice cream without any toppings for my first Milky Bun. The cookie butter was a tempting second place, but I hadn’t had a churro in forever because theme parks are no longer a part of my life and I’m usually too cheap to buy concessions at a sporting event.

The guy behind the dipper sliced the doughnut on a table behind the dipper, then returned to the dipper to grab a scoop of ice cream, and then plopped that scoop on one slice. The other slice was gently placed on top of the scoop with some pressure to spread out the ice cream, and then the sandwich was wrapped in white tissue paper before being delivered to me while I paid at the cash register. (They’re also supposed to put your name on the tissue paper to avoid mix-ups, but because he either didn’t hear me when I gave my name or because I was a party of one, he skipped that step.)

With nowhere to sit down and eat the Milky Bun inside the Tustin shop or at the strip mall, I returned to my car for the taste test. After I took that first bite, I understood the assertion that the Milky Bun would be “HEAVEN, In Your Mouth.”

The churro ice cream had the flavor of a churro doused in sugar, not the dry and the burnt kind that you see toward the end of the day at a theme park or sports concession stand. But the decision to pair this churro ice cream with a non-glazed plain doughnut made each bite feel like I was eating an actual churro that was smooth instead of crunchy.

Yep. “HEAVEN, In Your Mouth.”

Who needs to pay the $100 admission to Disney World or $40 ticket for a cheap seat at the stadium for a churro when you can just drive to Afters and buy the Milky Bun with churro ice cream?

I woke up my sister — it was almost 11 pm Pacific when I sat down, so we’re talking 1 am Central for my sister — with a string of text messages thanking her for telling me about this place. Upon finishing, I had this understated thought: “That was good.”

It was so good that I drove the Afters shop in Chino Hills the next day for another serving of this unique ice cream sandwich.


The Chino Hills Afters is located in the middle of a large suburban shopping center, so it could accommodate the line without people having to stand outside the door. The walls were black with more ice cream quotes, including “Ice cream is my religion,” but the lighting covered the spectrum of colors; there was a club vibe here. I knew this would be my last outing to Afters that weekend, so I stuck with what I knew to be best: churro ice cream and no toppings, but switched the doughnut to a glazed doughnut.

The glazed doughnut jacked up the sweetness of the Milky Bun, but also made it a little messier to hold onto and finish. It was worth all the effort, though.

My poor body, taking so much damage overall for the sake of my taste buds.

Like the guy at Tustin, the Chino Hills employee asked for my name. When I arrived at the register for the exchange of dollars for dessert, a pleasant surprise accompanied the treat: the white tissue paper had “BRYAN” written in black sharpie across the front. She spelled my name correctly without even asking me to spell it out for her.

I don’t get bothered when people spell my name as “Brian” instead of “Bryan” — after all, the feminine equivalent is “Brianna,” not “Bryanna,” and it’s not worth the effort to get angry over a spelling variant — but it always makes my day when someone guesses, assumes, or somehow deduces that I spell my name with a “Y.” Because of that spelling miracle, that churro ice cream Milky Bun I ate in the middle of a Chino Hills shopping center WAS THE BEST DESSERT I EVER HAD (on this trip).

The Milky Bun doesn’t need any extra help to be a superb food experience, but it’s always the little things that make something more enjoyable than it already is.

British Invasion Averted


The clash of titans ended before the combatants could even come to blows, as a quad injury suffered in training felled the titan in blue.

Major League Soccer and ESPN were ready to make Sunday’s match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York City F.C. a showcase piece for the league, because it would mark the first time that two midfielders from England’s Pyrite — sorry, Golden — Generation, LA’s Steven Gerrard and NYCFC’s Frank Lampard, face each other in the United States’ domestic league. The original start time of 2 pm Pacific Time was pushed up to Noon Pacific to accommodate east coast viewers. The matchday program distributed at StubHub Center featured a yellow and blue cover with “The British Invasion” splayed on top, with Gerrard and Lampard standing in front of the Union Jack. Lampard had even been quoted for circling the date of the #LAvNYC fixture on his calendar as soon as he found out that Gerrard signed for Los Angeles.

Not to take away from Robbie Keane, Gio Dos Santos, David Villa, or Andrea Pirlo, of course. But hey, Lampard and Gerrard were the cruxes of their English clubs and many Fantasy Premier League teams in their heyday.

After all that hype, the quads sidelined Lampard from even making the bench. After years in Chelsea where he rarely suffered any major or recurring injury, Lampard has broken down like a Ford Pinto since belatedly arriving in America in July. The health woes now plaguing Lampard in the States are just salt in the wound for NYCFC and MLS; the notorious contract situation/loan that sent Lampard to Manchester City for the entirety of the 2014-15 Barclays Premier League season blocked the English midfielder from linking up with NYCFC in March for the start of the MLS regular season. If karma acted like it should have, Lampard’s problems should have occurred while he was on his extended stay in Manchester, and then rediscover full health once he crossed the Atlantic.

But the presence of Lampard on the pitch may not have had an effect on the outcome of the match anyway. The lethality of the Galaxy attack exploited the sieve that is the NYCFC defense en route to a 5-1 victory for the reigning MLS Cup champions and the club’s 1000th regular season goal in MLS — the first time a team has reached that milestone number in the league. The ease with which the Galaxy thrashed NYCFC in the second half summed up the best of LA and the worst of NYCFC this season: LA is balanced, but is excellent in player quality from back to front, while the top heavy imbalance in New York means there are days where the attacking prowess can’t keep up with the alarming rate that the defense concedes goals.


It was New York who started the game as the aggressor, forcing a couple corner kicks early on before taking up a possession game that blunted the Galaxy attack, but didn’t create any legitimate NYCFC scoring chances, for about 25 minutes. After that point, LA found its footing in the game and should have been up 1-0 in the 27th minute, when Keane lunged for a shot in a goalmouth scramble and hit the crossbar. A Galaxy goal was ruled out a couple minutes later, but LA finally broke the deadlock when Gyasi Zardes bulleted a free header into the net in the 36th minute. NYCFC had its last legitimate chance of the match when Kwadwo Poku broke into the box and passed it to Tommy McNamara, who could only shoot it high from six yards out.

Instead of going into halftime tied 1-1, LA led 1-0 at the break and didn’t look back when the second half kicked off.

The rampage began in the 53rd minute, when an unmarked Keane received a pass on the right side of the pitch, dribbled it into the box for a one-on-one with NYCFC goalkeeper Josh Saunders, and chipped the ball over Saunders to make it 2-0. Dos Santos scored a nearly identical goal in the 67th minute to make it 3-0, but the breakaway chip came from the center of the box. Three minutes later LA scored a goal that the NHL’s Kings would be proud of: Dos Santos passed the ball to Gerrard on the right side of the box, whose shot aimed at the far post instead deflected off Sebastian Lletget and redirected straight into the net to make it 4-0.

Pirlo was subbed off by NYCFC in the 75th minute for striker Patrick Mullins. Pirlo, whose giveaways in this match were more glaring than I expected, received a warm applause from the crowd as he walked off the pitch. The sub made an impact four minutes later, though: Mullins, who appeared to fall over himself in the box from my line of sight, drew a penalty that David Villa scored for the consolation goal.

In a case of ball don’t lie, or just plain generosity from NYCFC, the Blues returned the goal to LA a minute later. Robbie Rogers had some space in the left wing to send a low cross to Keane, who had an easy tap-in from six yards out to grab the brace and make it 5-1.

It should have ended 6-1 when Gerrard had a breakaway down the right a few minutes later. The crowd anticipated his shot, but Gerrard didn’t oblige and selflessly squared it to the left for Keane to try and score the hat trick. A NYCFC defender tracked back to block Keane’s pass back to Gerrard for a tap-in and the threat ended. Oh well, it’s not like LA needed the extra goal, anyway; the +17 goal differential LA owns is top of MLS.

At the rate LA is going, they look like the team to beat — and no one else in MLS looks poised to do so. Granted, the NYCFC defense makes any Bundesliga defense look like Chelsea’s, but there really isn’t much of a weakness from top to bottom on that LA squad. As the guy seated next to me pointed out (more on him later), the signing of Dos Santos to bolster the already-dangerous attack spearheaded by Keane just destroyed the balance and tipped everything in LA’s favor.


This was the third NYCFC match I’ve attended this season and this club has conceded 3+ goals in each match. The table would read Played: 3, Points: 1, Goals For: 6, Goals Against: 12. As the guy who sat next to me at the stadium noted (again, more on him later): NYCFC is entertaining because they’ll either squeak by with a 4-3 win or 4-4 draw, or get destroyed in a manner that LA accomplished on Sunday.

I’ve been to two NYCFC games since Lampard joined and he’s been injured both times. Third time better be a charm.

This was the second match I attended at StubHub Center. The first match was Landon Donovan’s final regular season home match, when the Galaxy drew 2-2 with the Seattle Sounders, but I don’t remember much about the atmosphere other than the outpour of love for Donovan. To rectify that, I paid more attention to the atmosphere on Sunday and while it is good with respect to volume and near-continuous singing, I hope the supporters sections eventually broaden the scope of cheers beyond chanting “L-A GALAXY” so often.

I sat next to a former New Yorker of five years who moved to Los Angeles six months ago — escaping that dreadful blizzard-filled winter — for a job transfer and the better weather. (The only drawback: he’s now in a cross-country relationship with his girlfriend, who still lives in New York.) He’s a Thierry Henry fan, so he supported Arsenal and New York Red Bulls when Henry played for each club. However, now that Henry is retired, he’s taken the same approach I have to MLS: enjoying the league as a neutral and watching matches to appreciate how the quality of the game has grown in the United States, especially over the last two years. He does plan to give the future Los Angeles Football Club, scheduled to open MLS play in 2017, a chance to earn his support, though, because the stadium will be close to where he lives.

On my way out of the stadium, two Chelsea supporters saw me wearing my Crystal Palace shirt at the stadium, yelled “Palace!” and gave me two thumbs up. Let’s see if they feel the same way after Palace takes the points from Chelsea this Saturday. (Kidding. Sort of.)

Interesting soccer jerseys I saw at StubHub Center: a teenager in an Andi Weimann Derby County shirt, FC St. Pauli, Hull City, and Southend United. There were a boatload of Liverpool, USMNT, Chelsea, and Italy jerseys, too, for obvious reasons.

The bacon wrapped hot dog at StubHub Center is to die for. Incidentally, my life expectancy went down a couple weeks after eating that hot dog.