The First Bulls Title I Saw Since 1997

To avoid melting into a smelly puddle because of a stupid heat wave taking over the east coast, I went to my gym last night to use the treadmills. A row of 12 TVs sits in front of the three rows of treadmills in the gym; I avoid watching TV when working out because it’s dizzying. When I took one of the few open treadmills left in the back row, I looked up and realized I’d have to break my no-TV stance that workout.

The TV directly in front of me was tuned to ESPN Classic, broadcasting the second half of Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals, when the Chicago Bulls defeated the Phoenix Suns 99-98 to secure the first three-peat for the Bulls in the ‘90s.

I’ve never seen any part of that game replayed outside of John Paxson’s title-clinching three pointer. Even though I knew the result, I went into watching the game as if it was live, trying to make memories of something that happened 22 years ago because I was too young to remember it the first time around.

The Bulls held a 10 point lead with about seven minutes left in the third quarter when I started my workout. The first thing that stuck out is the magnitudes of improvement that video quality has seen over the last two decades. I didn’t need the highest quality of video to appreciate how sharp the Bulls looked with their red uniform and black shoes combination — the intimidation factor is timeless. (Yes, even with Horace Grant wearing those awesome white goggles.) On the other hand, the basketball/sun/comet hybrid running from left to right across the Suns’ jerseys, like a sash, looked so dated now, even with the gruff Charles Barkley bullying the boards in those colors.

I didn’t think of plugging in my headphones until after I saw the NBA on NBC logo flash from an extended break, so I missed my opportunity to hear that immortal theme song. Thank God for YouTube.

When I started running with the game, it looked like the Bulls were going to run away with the game and the championship. Michael Jordan was hitting every one of those catch and shoot fadeaways and Scottie Pippen was all over the court for defensive duty and offensive rebounds. A young-looking Phil Jackson, with a full head of pepper-colored hair and matching beard, looked untroubled whenever the camera panned to him on the bench.

It looked especially too easy when the Bulls executed the same inside-out attack three times to perfection in the third quarter, which netted three three-pointers nailed by three different shooters. A Bull would penetrate the Suns defense to get in the paint and — instead of shooting — would zip the ball back to a Bull standing behind the arc for an open three. Paxson made the first of the trio with a three from the same spot he’d later hit the game-winner, then B.J. Armstrong got in the act with a three from the baseline, and finally Trent Tucker — a reserve I never heard of until that moment — got the inside-out pass at Paxson’s spot and nailed the three in the closing seconds of the third quarter

The Bulls took an eight point lead into the fourth quarter and just collapsed offensively. The Suns made the paint impenetrable and then took to tearing the Bulls in the paint on the other end of the court. Barkley continued to bully the frontcourt for offensive rebounds and second chance opportunities, Kevin Johnson (who knew he’d be the Mayor of Sacramento decades later?!) found gaps to drive to the net, and the Suns took care of the free throws the Bulls gifted to them through shooting fouls. Despite all the success the Suns were having, Danny Ainge (who knew he’d be the GM of the Celtics decades later?!) and Dan Majerle were pretty quiet in that quarter.

This was rock bottom for the Bulls: the 10 point lead that I saw when I started running evaporated into a four point deficit with under two minutes left in the game. Pippen, Grant, and Cartwright each accumulated five fouls. Worst of all, Jordan was the only Bull to generate any offense up until that point in the fourth quarter — nine points.

Phoenix should have sealed the game at this point, but after establishing that four point lead, the Suns couldn’t buy a basket. They missed all six of subsequent shots they took; they wouldn’t make any more.

Jordan took an inbound pass after cross court to cut the Suns’ lead to 98-96 with about a minute to go. The Bulls defense forced another Suns turnover with just under 15 seconds left in the game and took a timeout for Jackson to draw up a play.

That play? Another inside-out attack, of course.

Jordan inbounded the ball from the Bulls bench, had that teammate pass the ball back immediately to him, then dumped the tossed the ball to an open Pippen standing at at the top of the arc. Pippen drove to the paint, dumped the ball to his left to an open Grant, who one-timed the ball back to Paxson behind the arc.

Swoosh. 99-98 Bulls with three seconds left.

I put my hands up in celebration in the treadmill, didn’t feel like an idiot at all — I knew I looked like one, though — then ended the workout. In one hour, I saw the Bulls win a title for the first time since 1997. The Bulls scored only 12 points that quarter, 75 percent of them by Jordan, but the last 25 percent that Paxson chipped in was just enough help for Jordan. The context behind that Paxson three is incredible and I can’t believe it took me this long to learn the history of that game and championship.

Fitting that a three pointer was the shot that sealed the first three peat.

Historic Hamels

Too many zeroes in that Cubs scoreline.

Too many zeroes in that scoreline for the Cubs.

With the Chicago Cubs down 5-0 and down to their final out in Saturday’s sunny afternoon game against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Wrigley Field faithful got up on its feet. Cubs slugger Kris Bryant was taking his spot in the batter’s box to face off against Phillies ace Cole Hamels.

On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Bryant launched Hamels’s curveball toward centerfield. The crowd gasped at the speed and height at which the ball flew through the air — the ball looked destined to land in the basket atop the ivy-covered outfield wall of Wrigley. But the ball then began to drop just shy of the 400 feet it needed to clear to be a solo home run, expended of its energy to travel forward. Phillies centerfielder Odubel Herrera made a diving catch for the ball in the warning track and arose from the dust-up he created with the ball in glove for the Cubs’ 27th and final out. Cubs lose 5-0.

The crowd at Wrigley Field went wild.

The euphoria from Phillies fans and Cubs fans alike was for Hamels, whose 129th pitch of the game bagged him his first career no-hitter and the 290th no-hitter in MLB, per the immaculate source that is Wikipedia. Witnessing history was enough of a panacea for most Cubs fan — including me — to stomach another power outage from the inconsistent Cubs offense and a second consecutive loss to the worst team in MLB.

In a fun bit of irony: Cubs Charities was giving away #WeAreGood t-shirts for a $25 donation in the main concourse before this game.

Hamels’s accomplishment is dumbfounding when pitted against historical context. Before Saturday, the Cubs last suffered a no-hitter 50 years ago — a perfect game thrown by the legendary lefty, Sandy Koufax, whose Dodgers beat the Cubs 1-0. The Cubs’ 50 year streak of repelling no-hitters was also the longest such stretch running in MLB.

(Boy, it would be a nice coincidence if that other 106-year-old streak that the Cubs currently own is snapped this year.)

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What should have been a pitchers’ duel between Hamels and Cubs starter Jake Arrieta quickly turned one-sided because of the muted Cubs bats and Arrieta’s struggles with his control early in the game. Arrieta couldn’t find the inside half of the plate for the first few innings; multiple Phillies batters were bending backward and hopping out of the box like they were in a game of dodgeball to avoid pitches intended for the inside part of the plate. Then in the third inning, Phillies’ first baseman Ryan Howard turned back the clock to 2008 on Arrieta and blasted a 3-run home run to left center field to provide all the offense that Hamels needed.

I started talking “no-hitter territory” with my dad after Hamels got through five innings; the game was breezing by with how efficient Hamels was picking off the Cubs lineup, as if he was a machine just mass-producing outs and distributing them to the Cubs. (“You get a strikeout! You get a lineout! You get a lineout! You get a strikeout!”) After joining the rest of Wrigley for a brief moment of happiness in singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” to a video of the April 8, 2005, seventh inning stretch conducted by Cubs legends Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Billy Williams, and Ron Santo, I hit Defcon 1 for “I’m gonna see a no-hitter in completely unideal conditions” after Hamels struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh.

One catch in the bottom of the eighth killed any hope I had of the Cubs breaking up the no-hitter.

With one out and a 1-2 count, Cubs elder statesman/catcher/Lester-whisperer David Ross knocked the baseball to left center field. Like Bryant’s final at-bat of the game, the trajectory and speed of the ball had all the makings of a trip out of the park, but then it dipped toward the warning track. Herrera made his first spectacular diving catch of the game and nabbed the ball on his knees before it crashed into the ground.

That was it. That was the requisite defensive gem that would secure the no-hitter. Fine, it’s just going to happen. Let me see history.

Of course, Herrera just had to one-up himself with that final catch of the game that robbed Bryant of a hit, but it was another web gem in the outfield that Hamels deserved because of the miniscule amount of work he gave his infielders that afternoon.

Like vultures swarming toward a carcass, the Phillies dashed out of the visitor dugout, the bullpen, the outfield, and the infield to mob Hamels at the mound, and the crowd moved on to a standing ovation for Hamels. The elementary school-aged boy in the Phillies shirt and hat in front of me celebrated with his arms up in the air, while his dad — a closet Phillies fan wearing a Columbus marathon shirt and Cubs hat to deflect attention away from his son — danced with his arms and yelped in celebration of Hamels’s accomplishment. As Cubs fans continued to clap and congratulate any Phillies fans they encountered as they headed to the exits, Phillies fans began to chant Hamels’s name as he was gave his post-game interview.

Even a day later, it’s still hard to fathom that I actually witnessed a no-hitter in only the seventh MLB game I’ve attended. In contrast, baseball die-hards Keith Olbermann and Bob Costas have yet to be in attendance at a ballpark to watch a no-hitter, despite decades of watching the game as fans and covering the sport professionally. I don’t know what that says about my level of fandom, but I’ll continue to use the historical context of Hamels’s achievement to help me remember the experience positively instead of negatively.

Besides, the historical moment has given me a more coherent story to talk about if I ever get the opportunity to talk about my first game at Wrigley in 10 years. For the third consecutive MLB game I’ve attended in 2015, one pitcher dominated the affairs, but script flipped with the away pitcher overwhelming the efforts of the home team. (Figures it happens in the one game whose result I actually care about.)

I originally anticipated this to be about the new Cubs culture that proliferated into Wrigley: the hashtag #LetsGo added to the famous red marquee (love it), the picture of manager Joe Maddon at the front of the stadium (that confirms he is a superstar if he’s sharing space with ace Jon Lester and the young guns), a revived Hot Doug’s in the outfield bleachers, and just how gorgeous and green the bleachers still look even with the addition of sleek new electronic scoreboards, and then contrast the new bleachers with the hilarity of finding cobwebs in the stanchions of Aisle 530, where I sat that day.

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Heck, I didn’t even get a chance to single out Florida Cubs Anthony Rizzo and the aptly-named Addison Russell.

This Cubs team is #good and they just had a bad day at the office on Saturday. I’ll be back at Wrigley next summer with initially small expectations for that game: a hit. Once that checkbox is ticked, then I can progress to a run, then maybe multiple runs, and then maybe a win. It’s just odd that I now have to apply that adage of “there’s always next year” to something as mundane as seeing this talented Cubs team get a hit at Wrigley.

Facebookin’

With the new Chvrches song playing in the background, I went into Flashback Friday mode on Facebook and used it for one of its original purposes, a purpose lived out in its peak back when I attended the University of Florida and a university email was required to join the site because networks actually meant something.

I went Facebook creepin’ on old classmates.

I use the language of “old classmates” because I’m not “friends” with most of the profiles I browsed. Like falling into the rabbit hole of Wikipedia, it started with randomly checking out the profile of one of my close friends from UF who I don’t keep in regular contact with anymore. I wanted to see what he was up to since he never posts status updates, but there weren’t any job/relationship/living updates to be found — the latest job on his employment still listed the internship he held down three years ago. But on his friends box on the left side of the profile, I noticed the name of another classmate I wasn’t close to, but always enjoyed trading sarcastic remarks with over how we never understood what the hell the lecture we just sat through was about.

He now married to his college girlfriend; his profile picture album was mostly public and was a collection of photos of him and his wife from the wedding, the couple attending a bunch of conventions together, and the couple getting together with both sets of friends for costume parties and sailing the deep blue of the Atlantic. That album was a launching point for me to further dig down the rabbit hole and check out the profiles of those friends, most of whom were the guy’s groomsmen and more college classmates I traded quips about our lectures with at the end of classes.

They covered the wide spectrum of the 20-something experience. Engaged to be married with steady careers. Happily dating after a delayed entry into the engineering field. Single and living the military officer’s life. (Oh, hey, here’s another name I forgot about! *click*) Married and living the military officer’s life — both husband and wife. (Whoa.) A superstar from my classes living up to his potential as a design engineer. Another superstar from my classes who left the technical side to become a head sales engineer. (Hey, there’s the name of the guy who got a 90 on a Stability and Control exam that I scored a 35 on!) A grad student at an elite private university. (Of course.)

Further and further down the hole I fell, taking the left at Albuquerque and then passing through Wonderland as I read the saw personal milestones and professional accomplishment of my peers through the smiles of their profile pictures. So many of these former classmates were working for the big names that recruited heavily at UF: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Electric, Boeing, SpaceX.

(Yes, my former classmates are designing and building the airplanes and their engines that will fly you to your loved ones and destination vacations. Trust me, you’re in good hands, even though they all apparently haven’t grasped the privacy settings on Facebook.)

By the time I exhausted myself and realized I needed to return to the surface, I was left with one overwhelming feeling after seeing where life took my peers: joy.

Even though I had a marginally professional relationship with most of these classmates, the glimpses I saw into their lives was so uplifting. The relationships, the marriages, the dreams they held down — how could I not smile and be happy at the happiness they put out there for their online persona? It’s amazing to see all the great people who helped me in one way or another survive the intensity of undergraduate engineering doing so well after not thinking about them at all the last four years, when I finished up my time in Gainesville.

Seeing so many of my peers do so well is reinvigorating — it’s as much of a shared Alma mater thing as it is a human thing and being happy for my fellow human beings. I took an unusual path in engineering to kickstart my career and I’m hitting that crux point of three years now. I want that next step I take in the career to allow me to grow as a professional — I want to do well for myself and do well to live up to the potential made possible by my Alma mater, even though I’m probably long forgotten by most, if not all, of my classmates. Hopefully, with professional growth comes the personal growth of arriving at a destination I’m ready to call home for a long time.

The light shone brightly over the hole I dug, and bolstered by all that I saw, I easily made my way up toward the light.

After I reached the surface, I thought about my close friend I lost contact with. I sent him a text that basically said “Hello, it’s been far too long.”

Bronx Bonanza

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Villa standing over the spot before he missed his first penalty of the match.

The fans came in all shades of blue for the long-delayed debut of Frank Lampard donning the sky blue of New York City FC in their matinee against Toronto FC, but with the midfielder ruled out of the match due to a calf strain, the fans stayed for one of the more bizarre soccer games anyone could attend. The 4-4 draw that resulted was an apt scoreline for the 90 minutes of madness that played out in the Bronx.

After David Villa scored off a stunning free kick that Toronto goalkeeper Chris Konopka palmed into the net, the two teams combined for seven goals and four penalties conceded over the remaining 73 minutes of the match. (I didn’t really have time to let it sink in that I finally saw Spain’s greatest striker score a goal in person because of all the chaos that ensued on the Yankee Stadium pitch.) The ref gave each team two opportunities from the spot and each team took the opportunity to squander the first penalty given to them. This PK situation is probably the only time you’ll ever hear anyone say that hitting .500 at Yankee Stadium is not a good day at the ballpark.

Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco was the first guilty party, striking the post so hard that there was no rebound opportunity. Giovinco would get his redemption story later, but things had to bottom out for Toronto first. With New York given a penalty after Tommy McNamara was brought down in the box, Villa stood on top of the ball on the spot and then shot it right at Konopka. Just like the last penalty taken, though, New York had the luck of the rebound, and Patrick Mullins bundled the ball into the net with the help of a Toronto deflection to make it 2-0.

With New York up 2-0, the crowd was the loudest I’ve heard since they took a 1-0 lead against the Red Bulls a couple weeks ago, but a Giovinco hat trick over a span of nine minutes stunned the crowd into silence going into halftime. This was my first time ever seeing Giovinco play and his overall performance was one of the best first impressions that anyone has made on me.

At 5’5’’, Giovinco was the shortest player on the pitch, but he was the most frightening player all game. Although the starting XI placed him up top as a striker alongside Robbie Findley, Giovinco was all over the pitch, trying to put himself in position to exploit any acres of space that New York couldn’t cover. Giovinco found so many spaces; he had the devastating combo of speed and acceleration to exploit it almost every time the ball went his way. Height notwithstanding, Giovinco looked like The Flash out there in the all-red kit and with all the freedom he had to run around the Yankee Stadium outfield.

Giovinco’s first goal was a penalty — aimed at the same corner where he struck the post in his first try — after Kwame Watson-Siriboe body checked Daniel Lovitz in the box, but the second and third goals of the hat trick were sublime. A backheel pass through the heart of the pitch split the back four of New York blue and the red of Giovinco rushed through the gaping hole and converted on the breakaway to level the score at 2-2. Giovinco sealed the hat trick with another impressive burst of speed through the leaky heart of the New York defense to meet Findley’s low cross and chip it over goalkeeper Josh Saunders.

From this point on, my nickname for Giovinco is “TNT,” as long he remains in the red of Toronto. I hope I’ll get the chance to see more of his explosive runs in the future.

The second half was so tempered compared to the first half until yet another penalty perked me up in the 65th minute, when Villa made good on his first miss to tie it at 3-3. The game went back to a lull, so this time I could actually take it all in that I was actually attending a match where Spain’s greatest goalscorer netted in a competitive game — twice! — until the crazy final 10 minutes of the match. Once again, TNT was responsible. Instead of blazing down the middle again, TNT burst down the left flank (and almost into the ad boards; he got lost in the crowd of people standing in front of me to see what happened) to serve up a cut-back from six yards out for Marky Delgado, whose pass into the net made it a 4-3 game for Toronto.

The morgue in Yankee Stadium came to life again minutes later when the game basically ended the way it began: a New York set piece from outside the box that resulted in a goal. And once again, New York got the rebound luck, with Mullins using his head to one-time the ball into the net after it took a wild bounce off a Toronto defender.

You could argue that New York stole a point from this game, but neither team deserved to win with the shoddy defenses they deployed that afternoon. Both teams went button-mashing-happy on the square button when their opponents threatened in or just outside of the box. New York’s defense was slow and couldn’t be proactive against the speed of GIovinco, while Toronto apparently needs extra training on how to defend set pieces.

Instead of trying to figure out how to play Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, and Mix Diskerud together, New York should have taken an example from Portland and found a defender to be one of its designated players. I don’t know much about Toronto’s team to comment on how they can fix their defensive woes, but if can get some help at the back and pair that with TNT spearheading the threatening attacks, Toronto should finish second in the East.

Pyrite in One Patriot Place

Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, was a thematically appropriate venue to host the United States Men’s National Team in its CONCACAF Gold Cup group stage game against Haiti — especially given the timing of the match, which happened some nine hours after the United States Women’s National Team partied in confetti and cheers down New York City’s Canyon of Heroes in a ticker tape parade celebrating its third World Cup title.

The US Men snatched a 1-0 win to close out the Friday of United States soccer, but the performance was hardly worthy of the fanfare that the met the US Women on parade.

Jurgen Klinsmann went away from the diamond midfield deployed in the 2-1 win over Honduras and opted for a 4-3-1-2, with Clint Dempsey in the hole to support Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson up front. If this was an attempt to revive the attack, it failed miserably. Multiple times throughout the first half, the formation morphed into something that looked like a 4-3-3, with Johannsson flanked by Altidore to his left and Graham Zusi pushing up to the right wing when he wasn’t busy tracking back. It resulted in a front three that still remained too narrow and couldn’t spread out the Haitian defense; the US conceded possession too often without threatening the Haitian goal.

Meanwhile, Dempsey dropped deep into midfield and kind of got lost in between Mix Diskerud and captain Michael Bradley. Bradley did a solid, but very quiet, job of distributing the ball to the other midfielders and defenders to try and get the attack going, but too many long balls from the defense wiped out any chance for Mix, Bradley, Zusi, or Dempsey to really get involved with the attack. It felt like center back Tim Ream, who seemed to be the only defender to distribute on the ground, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan —outstanding in preserving the 1-0 win — saw more of the ball than any attacker on the US.

After about a half hour of play, the linesman ruled offside on a Johansson goal assisted by Altidore and Bradley (my seat was about in-line with that attack and Johansson looked onside to me), but lasting image that captured the futility of the US offense in the first half came courtesy of Altidore. I have no way of knowing if it was due to lack of match sharpness coming off the hamstring injury or bruised confidence, but in a one-on-one in the box with Haitian goalkeeper Johnny Placide, Altidore chose to square the ball across the net instead of shooting from the angle. No Americans could connect with the pass and Haiti easily cleared it out of the box.

Klinsmann substituted Gyasi Zardes for Altidore at halftime and the move paid dividends two minutes later when Dempsey reappeared and scored the game’s lone goal. Greg Garza’s chip into the box was met by Zardes, who cut back the ball for Dempsey to one-time it into the upper right corner of the net. The game finally opened up after Dempsey’s goal, with Guzan stopping a one-on-one against Duckens Nazon 10 minutes after the goal, and the US actually attacking with some width. Johansson would have had the goal of the game if he could have connected with the bicycle kick from a Dempsey cross in the 63rd minute.

The overall struggles of the US offense didn’t merit such a high line for a defense that bent a lot, but thankfully didn’t break. (Except for a late giveaway, Kyle Beckerman did a good job of shoring up everything in the final 10 minutes.) For now, I’ll take the three points and the team finishing top of the group. Hopefully, Klinsmann and the US Men can take a page from Jill Evans and the World Cup-winning US Women, and improve their performances in time to peak for the Gold Cup Final in a couple weeks.

Fourth at Fenway

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I stumbled into a carnival when I entered through Gate B of Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox’s 6-1 victory against the AL West-leading Houston Astros on the Fourth of July.

Except for a Red Sox store to my left, there really wasn’t much sign that a baseball team played Major League Baseball games in here. A big painting on the wall to my right advertised a kid zone for the younger baseball fans to play somewhere in the concourse. I guess if you’re going to lay down the big bucks to attend a baseball game, make sure you shield them from the balloons, Wally the mascot, and the statue of Mickey Mouse. Your kids will never want to be in the stands to watch the game once they lay eyes on those more appealing attractions.

But of more relevance to this carnival atmosphere and to my carnal needs: the food court placed dead center in front of the gates. People were seated in tables covered by red and white umbrellas to eat, drink, socialize, or corral their kids. Canopies with red and white stripes hung above the windows where the concession windows were placed. Above and below those canopies were a bunch of bold and busy red, white, and black signs advertising the various wares that the concession stands offer. Fenway Franks and a souvenir soda, French fries in plastic Red Sox caps (like the ones you can get at Dairy Queen, but larger), pizza, sausages and cheese, ice cream in Wally cups, popcorn, fried dough in sugar, beer.

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I normally skip the concession stands at stadiums because of the price gouging associated with the food and drinks, but I made an exception for Fenway because I didn’t eat breakfast and didn’t want to deny myself the opportunity to try a Fenway Frank. I purged the exact total from my brain because it gnawed at my soul, but I spent at least $20.00 on a regular Fenway Frank, French fries in a plastic Red Sox cap, and a Coke in souvenir cup that allowed for free refills. (I did not take advantage of the free refills because I already committed enough damage to myself with the first cup of Coke.)

The plain Fenway Frank got dressed in mustard and relish to create a pseudo-Chicago Dog. In the end, all of the food was actually pretty good quality for Aramark and the price — even if I didn’t skip a meal, I’d say the same thing. I probably could have eaten two Fenway Franks, but the number of fries crammed in that cap kept me filled enough to just make two Georgetown Cupcakes and a chocolate milk my dinner six hours later.

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———-

An abundance of green greets fans when entering the seating terraces of the Right Field Grandstand. It’s not just the Green Monster, the defining feature of Fenway Park that sits directly opposite the Right Field Grandstand, which creates the verdant environment that the Red Sox call home. Taking in a panorama view of entire field — widening the scope of what’s broadcast on TV — helped me make the stupid realization that all of the walls are green in the style of the Statue of Liberty. Although the green is a fairly light green, the sheer volume of that shade hitting the eyes overwhelms the ads for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Foxwoods Casino, Sports Authority, and the rest of the Red Sox’s partners.

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Even the electronic scoreboards standing above right field — the ones with the giant Bank of America and John Hancock logos perched on top — broadcast the in-game stats with a green background to stay in sync with the rest of the park.

The way that the Red Sox provide in-game stats is fantastic. When each batter returns for his second, third, etc. at-bat of the game, the result of each preceding at-bat is shown encased by an image of the baseball diamond. A yellow highlight traces the base path to show how far the batter advanced as a baserunner for that at-bat. For example, a batter who took a Walk and was stranded at first base would have a yellow highlight from home base to first base for that at-bat, while a batter who scored a run would have the entire base path highlighted yellow.

Even with columns blocking some of my line of sight to second base, but I could see everything else. The Green Monster was unobstructed, I could see NESN’s Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy seated in the central section of the press box behind home plate, and the presence of people seated in front of me didn’t hamper the rest of my view of the outfield and diamond.

The mostly unobstructed view allowed me to see the giant US flag that draped over the Green Monster for the singing of the national anthem. The Red Sox did a good job of giving prime access to members of the military for the game: Members of the United States Air Force Reserve stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base stood in front of the flag for the anthem, sang the anthem and the seventh inning “God Bless America,” NESN’s Guerin Austin interviewed an active member of the Navy, and a Medal of Honor recipient received a standing ovation in the middle of the fourth.

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Unfortunately, MLB’s uniform acknowledgment of Independence Day came off flat. I didn’t see much of an issue with Houston’s uniforms, but the red caps that MLB provided the Red Sox for the game made the Sox look too much like the Cardinals. Just… gross.

I give the Red Sox fans a B- for the atmosphere they created. They cheered at the right moments — after Pablo Sandoval fell over the railing and into the Astros dugout to record a foul out in the Top of the fourth, when David Ortiz engaged Roberto Hernandez in a lengthy at-bat in the sixth, when Alexjandro De Aza slid head first safe into first base in the eighth, and when Clay Buchholz tried to record the final out for a complete game shutout — but any goodwill I had toward their efforts took a severe hit by the Wave that went around Fenway multiple times in the sixth inning.

The only thing worse than doing the Wave at a baseball game is doing it when your own player is taking an at-bat. The fans were doing the Wave during Sox outfielder Mookie Betts’s at-bat in the sixth inning and that caused a delay in celebration when Betts doubled to right field and drove in two runs. (Betts owned this game, going 2-3 with 3 RBI and a run scored.) Because of course, the Wave just happened hit my section when Betts put the ball in play, which got lost among the mass of flailing bodies in front of me wasting their time and energy on a stupid cheer that does nothing but prove that you’re the boring one if you’re doing it.

Overall, the B- is for inconsistency. In between an inning, “Party in the USA” blared in Fenway while the fan cam went in search of dancing fans. When the stadium camera went to the outfield and focused on this white millennial guy who looked like he could work at an Abercrombie, he gyrated to the song to everyone’s delight. But for most at-bats up until the final two innings, the ambiance was of murmured conversations than any focused chants; I took Seattle’s noise for granted when I visited Safeco in April. Then the fans got back on good graces again when they all stood and sang “Sweet Caroline” in the rain in the middle of the eighth, which lived up the baseball bucket list experience that people made it out to be.

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Standing for “Sweet Caroline.”

The crowd provided one final burst of in-game spirit with their support of Buchholz in his attempt to secure a complete game shutout. The crowd met each pitch and each out with vocal approval or disapproval. Groans for when Astros second baseman Jose Altuve singled. Outfielder Preston Tucker, a fellow Florida Gator, flew out to De Aza. Cheers for one down. Carlos Correa grounded out. Louder cheers for two down. One strike away against Luis Valbuena. Unfortunately for Boston, Valbuena looped one into outfield to score Altuve, who earlier advanced to third from Correa’s groundout and defensive indifference. But Buchholz secured the complete game in the next at-bat, getting Evan Gattis to fly out. Madness and “Dirty Water” in Fenway for the final out and the win. Buchholz’s final line: 9.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 8K.

That’s now the second straight complete game victory for the home pitcher that I’ve watched this season (Felix Hernandez in Seattle was the first). If any MLB team needs to get its pitcher out of a funk, fly me over for that pitcher’s next home start and watch me watch the game and work my magic. Those teams can pay me in free concessions.

*5 July 2015 at 1515: Added the Box Score and cap links.*

Hudson River Demolition

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A full capacity crowd of more than 48,000 people was present, but the Pinstripes were nowhere to be found on overcast Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Same for the four bases, the mound, the foul lines: all gone.

In their stead was the sky blue of Manchester City F.C. adapted for New York City F.C. — two clubs separated by 3,330 miles, but united by one ownership group — plus four corner flags, two nets, and the outline of a soccer field forcibly crammed within the confines of the outfield walls of Yankee Stadium. All looked a little out of place in their rented home, especially with the famous Yankee “NY” ghosting all over the stadium, but those cosmetic details mattered little because of the matchup that MLS scheduled for that day: New York City F.C. hosting the New York Red Bulls in the second installment of the Hudson River Derby.

NYC vs. NY. Or, as NYCFC preferred on their videoboard display, NYC vs. RB. The Red Bulls may have claimed New York for its own like the Jets and the Giants of the NFL, but NYCFC repeatedly emphasized to the Red Bulls that Harrison, New Jersey, was their home, by never acknowledging the “New York” of NYRB.

It was the first time NYCFC hosted this derby and it became one for City and its fans to forget after the Red Bulls overturned a 1-0 halftime deficit into a comprehensive 3-1 victory over the MLS new boys. With the victory, the Red Bulls claimed the three-game season series before the final match-up between the two clubs on August 9 at Red Bull Arena.

The atmosphere was charged, as expected, for a derby day.

The Red Bulls supporters drew first blood when they claimed the Star Spangled Banner as their own with a boisterous “RED.” (Ironically, the Red Bulls played this match in their dark blue away shirts.) The NYCFC supporters group, the Third Rail, unfurled a banner that gets an A+ for the play on geography: a Playbill cover for the Broadway musical Jersey Boys, but substituting Red Bulls players for The Four Seasons. When the game actually began, my friend and I heard a chant of “Vodka Red Bulls,” but other people in our group corrected us and pointed out that it was an expletive directed at the Red Bull franchise. The stadium wasn’t conducive to comprehending most of the chants, but I could see the Third Rail bouncing through most of the match, and the Red Bulls supporters filled the silence when defeat for NYCFC was inevitable.

Things had started so well for NYCFC, too.

In the sixth minute, NYCFC midfielder Tommy McNamara scored one of the finest goals I’ve seen in person — and the fastest goal in NYCFC’s young history. The Red Bulls couldn’t clear an NYCFC corner and the ball landed at the feet of NYCFC midfielder Mix Diskerud. Diskerud sent a cross into the box to McNamara — an alum of both Brown University and Clemson University; his player bio in the program was the only one to list educational achievements — who chested the cross and volleyed the ball low and inside the netting at the far post.

NYCFC continued to dominate play until the game clock hit somewhere between 20 and 25 minutes. At that point, the Red Bulls figured out how to generate their attacks down the flanks, ruining whatever shape the NYCFC midfield had, isolating striker David Villa and putting the back four under pressure in the box. Unfortunately for the Red Bulls, none of their attackers seemed interested in crashing the box and getting on the end on one of the plethora of crosses sent across the face of goal.

It was a miracle that NYCFC led 1-0 at halftime.

The Red Bulls were finally rewarded with a 47th minute equalizer when Sacha Kljestan crossed the ball to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who volleyed in a beautiful goal to the top right corner of the net. Four minutes later, Chris Duvall scored in the box to give the Red Bulls a 2-1 lead. This was when the meatballs in Yankee Stadium made their presence known: I saw soda, popcorn, and snack boxes from the section above my seat fall and land on the people in the rows front of me, who were uncovered by the terrace. I have no idea who these idiots were; at first I thought they were angry NYCFC supporters, but a couple red and white flags also fell below to my section, so I suspect they were actually carried-away Red Bulls supporters. Regardless, there’s no reason for that garbage at any stadium.

NYCFC manager Jason Kreis couldn’t find the substitutions to get his midfield and Villa back in the game. Villa’s first shot finally came in the 71st minute, but it was a weak effort that went way wide. Two minutes later, Matt Miazga sealed the emphatic 3-1 victory with a header from about six yards out. Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles turned around, faced the crowd, and gesticulated passionately in celebration.

After the final whistle, Red Bulls players joined Robles at his net, faced the crowd, and celebrated by pounding the club badge and taking leaps of approval in front of the Red Bulls fans in that section. More of the same trash, red and white flags included, fell below to my section again at the same time. Although Yankee Stadium made it difficult to fully appreciate the derby atmosphere, the magnificent play on the pitch by the Red Bulls more than made up for it.

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A few random observations:

NYCFC fans: when fans of the opposing team are chanting their club’s name, don’t boo. Start chanting your own club’s name. For crying out loud, you’re in your home stadium — take control of the atmosphere.

I’m still angry at those morons who threw crap to the sections below them.

The video boards showed Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo seated together and taking in the game. Can’t wait to hear the debates over whether or not Lampard and Pirlo can play together in midfield.

Also present at the game: LL Cool J and Gareth Bale. Cool J got time on the video board; Bale did not. Of course.

NYCFC had its own marching band, City Beats, perform during halftime. It was a little difficult to hear the DJ playing the recorded music had that volume up a little too high. Also, the Seattle Sounders and Sound Wave should challenge you to a play-off.

America: where you can go to a stadium and buy $12 beer or a half gallon bucket stuffed with chicken, French fries, and French’s sauce.

Respect to the guy seated two rows behind me in a Metrostars jersey and Buffalo Sabres hat.