Back in Town, Back in Time

I got back into town on Friday around 5:30 or so. Since then it has been a complete whirlwind of “Oh, God, what next.”

As today is Sunday (and I worked at my janitorial job last night), I am taking a rare day of rest. To update everyone on the events of the past week…

I drove down to Fayetteville, NC and interviewed for a teaching position on Wednesday. On Thursday I was offered the position. I notified the school that I would let them know on Monday what my decision was. I needed to drive back to Pittsburgh, talk to some people, and sleep on it for a day or two. Having talked to many friends and family and considering all of the ins and outs of the job, I have decided to accept the position. I will speak to the school first thing tomorrow to get some ironclad information regarding benefits and salary and such (more than has been discussed already, which has been ample).

The school year is already underway at this particular school, which makes things complicated. Unless they need me to come down immediately and are willing to put me up in an Extended Stay hotel, I will likely be moving and subsequently starting work in about 2 weeks. I will really hit the ground running (and as Mythbusters proved, likely stumble like a fool from the get go but eventually find my footing). I’m spending the next few days making preparations and plans for the first few days of class as well as some materials for the room so the kids aren’t walking into a barren chasm.

The actual school is…different. It is effectively a junior college. While still a high school, the students are all engaged in Honors/AP programs and earning college credits. The high school is actually housed within the campus grounds (and Education building) of the local university. The school also features a huge selling point for me – a non-traditional schedule. Block scheduling (I’ve only ever worked with period schedules, though I am familiar with block scheduling) allows 90 minutes with your students for half the semester, instead of 45 minutes for the whole year. It certainly makes for an interesting planning and approach. Likewise, I have a different start and end time than what normally happens in a high school. I am to report by 8:30 and the school day begins at 9:15 and runs until 4:15 (I report until 4:30). That schedule alone pays for itself in spades.

While I was in town I did take the opportunity (without having been offered the job) to look at available housing and such. I did find two nice, affordable places. One is clearly the front-runner, but I don’t want to say too much until I officially get the high sign that I was approved and can move in.

It is going to be completely nuts for the next few weeks. I will try to keep updating the blog. Frankly, writing here may be the only thing to keep me sane.

Oh, and 4 of the 5 people I interviewed with are die-hard Steelers fans.

Here we go.

Gone Fishin’

Folks,

 

Sorry things have been a little light lately. Griggsy is on vacation and I’ve been dealing with my own stresses and levels of freaking out. Uncle Walt is going to be away pretty much until Friday, but I will, hopefully, have fantastic news to share then.

On Tuesday I am making the ~10 hour drive to Fayetteville, North Carolina to interview for a teaching job. I am guardedly optimistic about this. I don’t want to say too much or give too much information away, at least not right now, but this could be a fantastic fit for me. It could also be a chance to do what I’ve talked about for some time – hit the reset button on life. Recently I described my life as being “like the old 8-bit NES blinking on and off and someone was furiously pressing the reset button hoping it would catch.” This may be a great opportunity for me to hit the reset button myself and do so with a little stability in my world.

I am excited and terrified and confident and worried and cocksure about everything. I don’t know what to think or how to feel, but I’ll allow it. Hope is better than the alternative.

We’ll see how things go, but there won’t be any blog updates until Friday at the earliest. You can still contact me on Twitter at twitter.com/AvoidingTheClap (@AvoidingTheClap) – I will have access to that via my smartphone (which may get put through a wall). Well wishes, death treats, trolling, and general herp de derp is always welcome.

 

-Walt

Finishing Touches

So, I promised I would get new photos posted once the main construction of the pond was completed. Well, we’re at that stage. There are, of course, still some finishing touches and minor things to be done, but nothing that requires major time or construction. Some planters, some rock work, little decoration here and there, but the main construction is done. The final hurdle, which was cleared on Monday, was the construction of the waterfall. The waterfall is a 3-tier cascade of whiskey barrels (the bottom barrel is actually half of an old whiskey barrel – the middle and upper “barrels” are decorative planters that just happened to be a perfect size).

Yes, I do plan on including a wagon wheel and some clay jugs of “moonshine” around it. No, I don’t plan on hanging a cow skull on the fence.

With that, I give you the progression of the pond project:

Late April:

That deck should look familiar. This all needed removed and cleaned up before the work could begin.

After tearing down the pool and clearing away the wood and mess associated with some downed tree bits…

Excavation!

There is something rewarding about hard work like this. There’s also something about getting absolutely zero help for 90% of the project from your layabout brother. Once the excavation was completed and I was happy with it, the installation began. I lined the rim with sandbags and tamped down the rest.

Sand bags and sunshine. Two things that really don't belong in PA.

The sandbags were installed and the ground was ready. In lieu of an actual underliner that is sold in stores (and per the consult of some friends who do this type of stuff for a living), we decided to give it the “There, I Fixed It” treatment and used carpet padding.

Yes, carpet padding.

Once the carpet padding was installed (and that was quite the hilarious project, let me tell you), the actual rubber liner was installed.

Liner!

The liner needed folded on the corners and edges worked out, but there was no stopping me from getting water in there.

We have water.

Little did I know, putting water into the pond would give me the single greatest lighting effect ever. Later that night I took a picture of the pond with the water in it. It gave birth to “Pond Hippo.” I love you, pond hippo.

I love you, Pond Hippo.

I took a few days off to let the liner get itself settled. I monkeyed with the edges and thought out the next moves. Naturally the next move became “purchase, haul, unload, and take by wheelbarrow 2+ tons of river rock with no help.” And that’s what I did.

So many rocks. Hey, there are plants, too!

Then after a bit of planning and thinking and testing, the waterfall.

Yessssssss

And that brings us to this point…

Hurrah!

Obviously there is still work to be done. I need to get the water clean(er), get the hoses and cords buried in the stone, finish under/beside the waterfall with some decoration, and other odds and ends, but the project is “finished” with regard to major construction.

Praise be.

 

8/13: Griggsy’s Gripes

Griggsy is back with a vengeance. Not really, he’s just got more thoughts on various things (hooooorrrrraaaaayyyyy football is back). While he’s gripin’ on the internets, I’ll be gripin’ as I mop the floors at my weekend job. All things depending, I plan on getting the new Pens Preview up between tomorrow and Tuesday. Until then, here’s Griggsy

—————

A couple of odds and ends to tie up to start off this week’s show.

First, in two weeks, I will be on vacation in an undisclosed location (one that hopefully has lots of sun and sand). So, no Gripes from me that week. Be strong, you’ll make it through. Second, I do encourage you to leave feedback, whether you love what you read here, or hate it, or just think it’s OK. I’m always trying to get better at this, so please do let me know what you think. I am still debating whether I should give Walt my e-mail address to put out there to get more feedback. More on that in coming weeks.

For now, here come the Gripes:

->I’m finally excited for the NFL season. No, it has nothing to do with the preseason games that started this weekend. And no, it definitely has nothing to do with the precipitous decline of Das Buccos (more on this later) leading to me turning my attention elsewhere. In actuality, my excitement comes from the text I got from my best friend last night.

“Sending out the FF info e-mail out tonight.”

Yep, fantasy football. Woooo!

I know there are a ton of people out there who think fantasy football is a pointless waste of time where grownups play armchair GM/coach for a fake sports team. And I get that. Which is why I am very selective about how much fantasy sports I do. I have one (very intense) fantasy baseball team, one (extremely intense) fantasy hockey team, and this is my single fantasy football team. The reason for my participation, especially in the football league: It’s a blast to do it. There are 10 guys who play. My (above mentioned) friend is the commissioner, I assist him with the league, and all 10 of us just enjoy the hell out of making fun of each other, each other’s teams, and everything under the sun, really. Anything that allows you and your friends to have more fun for a couple of months out of the year, do it.

Also, it gets me more interested in the NFL as a whole. I am not going to be drafting only Steelers, so this requires me to keep tabs on every team’s goings-on across the league. It’ll make me watch a few more preseason games, and will have me watching pregame shows early on Sunday mornings during the season. It forces me to have more knowledge about the league, and I am a fan of gaining knowledge.

I know they’re not for everyone, but if you are making fun of those who do fantasy sports leagues now, you’re in the minority now…

 

->The insanity of Steelers fans struck again this week. Well, that might be too strong. Let’s just say that some fans were a bit ridiculous after finding out about an injury. There is a segment of fans that get attached to players very fast, and sometimes they do so without real merit. They showed it again this week when it was announced that rookie late-round draft pick Baron Batch, a running back, suffered a season-ending ACL tear during practice Wednesday. Batch was making a decent name for himself in training camp by picking up on the playbook fast, and impressing coaches and fans with his skills when given the opportunity to do so. However, Batch was still a long shot to do anything beyond making the team as a 4th string running back and special teams player.

If you read the Twitter accounts of many Steelers fans, though, you would’ve thought this was a sign of the apocalypse. Reactions of shock, horror, and unmitigated depression. If you had removed the player’s name from the reactions, you would have expected this to be the aftermath of the loss of a Harrison, Woodley, Miller, or Wallace. Someone needed to slap some sense into these people. I liked what I heard about Batch’s showings in camp, but losing him will not have an effect on the result of any single game. Perspective, people. Save your wailing and gnashing of teeth for when Ben throws 3 interceptions in one half, or when the defense collapses in a 4th quarter. Or, you know, you could just not do that either…

 

->As mentioned above, the Buccos’ slide has taken them well below .500, putting them in serious danger of a 19th losing season. While there are still plenty of games left between now and the end of September, a lot of those games are against Milwaukee and Saint Louis, two teams that have absolutely crushed the Pirates in recent seasons. That’s not encouraging at all.

Was it nice to win two of three games from the World Series champs in San Francisco? Of course. But they didn’t face the Giants’ two best pitchers (Lincecum and Cain), and new acquisition Carlos Beltran sat out all three games. Let’s not start thinking that things are right back on track. A weekend in Milwaukee will tell the tale on that…

 

->Despite saying that, I don’t want to hear anyone say the Pirates should start looking to lose a majority of their remaining games to get another high draft pick for next season. That is absurd at this point. The team can’t go from 54-54 to residing in the bottom five in the league standings, and to try would be a pointless venture. Not to mention, that would not win the hearts of any fans. Now, I don’t think that teams need to take fans into account for every decision they make. But this team, with these beaten-down fans, are a special exception, for sure…

 

->As expected, over the last few days I’ve started to watch DVD’s of old Pens playoff games, trying to hold me over until hockey starts picking up again. And something struck me as I sat here watching the post-series celebration and handshakes. I am honestly surprised that a sports company hasn’t put the footage together from the numerous camera angles they have available and used it to make a DVD of these celebrations in uninterrupted form. Half of the time, there are interviews or handshakes going on, making us miss something that would be great to see: two guys that tried to maim each other all series having a conversation while shaking hands, or two teammates sharing a moment of unbridled joy away from the middle of the ice.

I am stunned this hasn’t been done yet. Hell, I’m stunned that no one’s had this idea yet…

Um, you know what? Ignore these last few sentences. Nothing to see here.

Now, where the hell is the number for the patent office? It was here a second ago…..

Come On, Come Out

As mentioned previously, I have been dealing with quite a bit in my personal life. I’m going through a major period of flux with a lot of uncertainty over the next few years. I’m making some moves and some choices with some pretty long tails on them and I can’t take them too lightly.

Those of you who know me in real life know that I’m wound pretty tight and am pretty serious about things at times. I sometimes lose sight of the simplicity I so desire in my world and let it get away from me. Today, thankfully, was not one of those days. Today I just had an incredible amount of peace and clarity.

I had to go to the store to pick up a new TV today (my previous TV had some technical issues internally regarding HDMI inputs and being able to switch signals thus rendering my PS3 unusable). We had absolutely gorgeous weather this evening. It was mid 70s, give or take, the sun was shining with some great periodic, fluffy cloud cover, a wonderful blue sky…and I just enjoyed driving around. I took the scenic route to the store (which is normally a 20 minute drive). I drove up through the country and just enjoyed the wind blowing through my hair and the warmth in the air and having my stereo up.

I love to match my music to my mood or to my surroundings. While I was initially enjoying the Hell out of some 90s Janet Jackson, I needed something a little better. Enter one of my favorite go-to records, “One Cell In the Sea” from A Fine Frenzy. Pretty much wherever I find myself or whatever I am doing, I can put that record on and get my mind right. It was almost too obvious and too perfect a song, but it really set the tone for my peaceful journey. “Come On, Come Out” has been one of those songs that sticks with me for a variety of reasons and I always use it when I am experience a shift in weather.

I absolutely love her. I love her voice so much and, frankly, she’s rather nice to look at, too. So much talent, though.

And I just peaced out to the record and enjoyed the whip of the wind and scent of woodsmoke in the air. I didn’t allow the moment to pass. There was, however, only one suitable end to it all.

Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” is one of those tracks I loved as a burgeoning young man and have really come to appreciate as I’ve entered into my older life. What can I say? I enjoy female vocalists in that indie, singer-songwriter, wonderfully dramatic, and sometimes smokey sound. Before you can ask, yes, I remember and still love Lisa Loeb.

It was so nice to have such a peaceful evening. I just enjoyed it so much that I wanted to keep driving. I just wanted to fill up the gas tank and drive until I couldn’t go any further and start a new life wherever I ended up. Had I had this song on the flash drive it would have been perfect (both in tone and keeping with the above theme, plus this unreal use in the final episode of “Six Feet Under” – obviously if you haven’t seen the show don’t click the video, less you be witness to spoilers).

Failtown – Population: Me

I feel like such a chump. I have not been writing as much as I would like lately, which is unfair to both myself and to all of you. Thank God for Griggsy. He’s been covering up for my punk ass the last week with his Gripes and his unreal look at the Pirates.

I have been doing quite a bit of work behind the scenes in my personal life lately. Nothing has changed, which is a disappointment. The previously mentioned job in NC did not pan out, which is a big time bummer. The job with the civil service is, well, a job with the Civil Service. I did well on the exam and now just need to wait and hope for an opening. Other than those, the job field is, erm, sparse. I’m well aware that this is a unique sentiment and there are a lot of people hurting looking for work. I’ve even been debating about making a career change because things are so hard right now in Education, but I just can’t do it. There are no jobs/careers out there I want to do outside of teaching. I just love it too much to leave, even if it means sticking it out for a while without permanent work.

I do have a few other things cooking. I am looking to pick up another job in the evenings/weekends while I keep working in the schools during the day (and do my night janitorial job on the weekends). I will, hopefully, be moving ahead with life over the next few years as I am, somewhat begrudgingly, planning on going back to school to begin working on my Master’s. I’m debating a few different programs and different schools, but I’m pretty well sold on the general umbrella study of Special Education. I’m going to make my decision over the course of the next month or two. I’ll talk to the schools I’m looking at and see what kind of packages they can put together and go from there.

The pond project, too, is at an end. I am completing the final part of the project this week. The waterfall is the final major obstacle. I have the supplies and have a plan. Once it is completed I will get some nice photos and post those soon enough. I am hopefully going to finish the last of the work on Friday so I can celebrate by watching some Steeler football.

I do have a few other hopeful odds and ends on the horizon, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. The next few years are going to be some interesting times. I’m looking forward to the challenges and being able to spend them with all of you.

-Walt

8/6: Griggsy’s Gripes

Double dose of Griggsy’s lovin’ on AtC. First we got an unreal write-up about the Pirates and now some more gripin’.

Griggsy, roll that beautiful bean footage.

 

———–

 

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m bad at writing intros. Because of that, let’s get right into things. This is what I’m griping about this

week:

 

->2011 Pittsburgh Pirates, we hardly knew ye. When you lose seven games in a row, nine of your last ten, and fall two games under .500, the dream has probably ended. It was a fun ride, and I will still be in front of the television for most of the games the rest of the season, but contending for a playoff spot appears to be beyond theBuccos’ reach for 2011. I’m not writing an epitaph on the team’s year yet, nor am I here to celebrate achievements. Instead, allow me to focus on the rest of the season.

 

The Pirates now have a fine line to walk. They need to make decisions about players going into next season, but they also need to keep 81 wins for this season as a possibility (or likelihood, to be honest). Is it going to be tough to do both? Based on the current 40 man roster, and in no particular order, here’s my (uneducated) analysis:

 

Sure To Return- K. Correia, J. Hanrahan, P. Alvarez, A. McCutchen, J. McDonald, N. Walker, J. Tabata, T. Watson, C. d’Arnaud, A. Presley, J. Jaramillo, J. Harrison, D. Moskos, B. Lincoln

 

Likely To Return- R. Ohlendorf, M. Diaz, R. Cedeno, J. Karstens, E. Meek, C. Morton, C. Resop, X. Paul, D. McCutchen, M. McKenry, C. Leroux, P. Ciriaco, E. Fryer, T. Wood

 

Unsure About Returning- R. Ludwick, P. Maholm, R. Doumit, J. Veras, G. Jones, S. Pearce, B. Wood, K. Hart

 

Unlikely To Return- C. Snyder, J. Beimel, J. Grilli

 

Will Not Return- D. Lee

 

Looking at that list, I don’t think it’s going to be that tough to analyze players while chasing after the elusive .500 record at the end of the season. The Pirates pretty much know what they are getting out of everyone listed, with the exception of Kevin Hart, who has been injured for a majority of his time with the organization. In past years, the latter part of the Pirates’ schedule was exclusively for the purpose of identifying who is worth keeping for the next season. This season, that won’t be the case. So, all that will matter will be finding a way to win 81+ games…

 

->Another big question about the Pirates going into 2012 involves the manager. Is Clint Hurdle the right man for this job? No question, he

is a master motivator, getting the maximum effort out of his charges on every gameday. But is he the right guy to have in there strategically? He makes fans and analysts tear their hair out with all of his bunting, his questionable lineup choices, and as Thursday night against the Cubs reminded us, his mismanagement of the bullpen is borderline criminal. Does this make him worse than a lot of managers in the league? The scary thing is that he probably isn’t any better or worse than most of them. Hurdle’s motivating makes him worth keeping around, but some type of adjustment needs made. The best way of doing this, in my opinion, is to get a strong-willed bench coach for Hurdle. Ideally, he will have no fear to tell Hurdle he’s making a potentially horrible decision. But I would take someone who would at least make Hurdle re-think his decisions…

 

->So, I hear football’s back. Both pro and college football training camps are underway. At some point, someday, I’ll get to my college football rant (and it’s a long one). But for my sanity, and yours, let’s keep the focus on the NFL for now. The labor strife in the NFL is over, teams are gearing up for the preseason, and fans are going crazy. Me, not so much. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still love football, and I’m glad it’s back. But I hate the lunacy that shows up around this time of year. I can’t speak to whether this is common around the country, but in the Pittsburgh area, crazy behavior reigns supreme from mid-July on. It started a little later this year, due to the extended lockout, but it’s shown up in full force now that the Steelers are back at St. Vincent College in Latrobe. Too many fans that are only willing to talk about the Steelers, to the point that they will argue about the 7th wide receiver on the team, or the 3rd string left guard, etc. Some guys and gals will go into major rants about guys that will be bagging groceries by September 1. And while I appreciate attention to detail, I don’t need to know about the yards per carry average of the undrafted free agent fullback who won’t even get on the field in preseason.

 

The scary thing, though, is that it’s not just the fans that are insane this time of year. Media members are just as bad.

 

I get that the local NFL team needs to be covered by the local media. It makes sense that sports writers and TV sports guys need to be all over Latrobe this month. They need to make their 3 minute reports regarding who looks good, who looks bad, and who got hurt. But what we don’t need are four or five writers from the same newspaper, or worst of all, serious news reporters for local TV stations doing daily reports from training camp. This drives me insane. I turn on the news at 5 or 6PM to see the major news stories of the day. I don’t turn it on so that ten minutes in (or sooner), that news guy is going to talk about the Steelers’ day on the practice field. It makes the station look like a joke organization, and takes away lots of credibility for the reporter and the news team. I love sports more than you can imagine, but when I turn on the news, I want news. If I want all the football you can fit in one hour, I have channels for that. A handful of them, actually. Leave it to them!

 

Deep breath…

 

->To be fair, though, I am very excited to see the guys back on the field. There has been a bad taste in my mouth since February. Coming so close to another ring, and falling short in such tough fashion, it stays with players and fans for a long time. For that reason, games can’t come fast enough. I’m not making any predictions yet (there are a couple of weeks left for that, stay tuned), but I like the Steelers’ chances for a good season. Lots of players are returning, and with that comes experience. In some years, a worry may be the age of the players, but not this season with special circumstances. Any team with lots of new players and/or new coaches will struggle early, because the lockout set their learning (or teaching) curve way back. Teams like the Steelers have a big advantage in that regard, and they could well ride that advantage to a very successful 2011 campaign…

 

->This just in: The weather still sucks…

 

->Because of the above fact, it makes me very happy that hockey is less than 2 months away. I love football and love baseball, but hockey will always hold the highest regard in my heart. I’m starting to get antsy, like a drug addict going through withdrawl. I have watched some replays of games on the NHL Network, but that really hasn’t helped. I am probably going to turn to my “Penguins 10 Greatest Games” DVD set soon, but I know that will be a temporary fix. Hopefully, though, it will hold me over until training camp. Don’t worry, I’m not a hypocrite. I won’t start talking about Wilkes-Barre’s 3rd and 4th lines or the plus-minus stat for the Pens’ 5th round pick in 2010 (or whatever). But I can’t wait to start thinking about lines, D-pairs, and matchups against the rest of the NHL. Let’s hope I can make it until then…

 

->The following statement may make you think less of me. I accept that.

 

I love the Harry Potter movies.

 

There, I said it. Judge me if you will. I’m not sure why I’m telling you this. I guess it’s because I am a man who loves movies nearly as much as I love sports. I watch a ton of them. So, when my girlfriend (thanks, honey) pushed me towards watching the set of movies, it took up a lot of my viewing time.

 

Now, to go back, let me say that I never watched a single minute of the movies prior to the last few weeks. This is not to say that I actively avoided them. I just never sought them out. I’ve done this with movies before (notably, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I never saw in theaters, but fell in love with via the extended edition DVDs). I am sure I will do this again with movies I should watch. Again, though, I finally was convinced to try the first movie and go from there (thanks again, dear). I was skeptical, naturally. Wizards and such, not my usual cup of tea.

 

But I was hooked very quickly. It was a fun series of movies, with many emotional moments that got to me. I’m an emotional guy to begin with, so the movies were able to latch on to me pretty easily. I am just so impressed that a compelling story could be told, both for the entire series and for each individual movie.

 

The gripe is with movie makers and movie crowds today. I fear we’re never going to get a steady stream of good movies with substance anymore. The three most popular types of movies (both in number of them made and number of hits from the genres) are the mindless slasher, the gross-out comedy, and the no-depth action movie. With rare exceptions, these are the movies that get the most attention, and the most box office action. It depresses me that too many people are willing to turn out for those movie types listed above, while ignoring the movies that have something substantial to them. Will this ever turn around? I sure hope so, but I fear I shouldn’t hold my breath…

 

2011 Pittsburgh Pirates: A Season on the Brink

Foreword: I approached Griggsy the other day about writing an article about the Pirates because he is a much better and more learned fan of baseball than I am or could ever be. It just so happens that we are on similar wavelength regarding the Pirates’ season and the infamous Jerry Meals safe call to end the 19-inning marathon game. I hope Griggsy and maybe even some of you out there will continue to make Avoid the Clap an enjoyable blog and provide some different perspectives on things. Comments are appreciated or you can contact us directly here .

With that, I give the floor to Griggsy.

————

The Major League Baseball season lasts 162 games. It’s by far the longest of any pro sport. Baseball fans will tell you that this makes certain that the teams that deserve to make the playoffs are the ones who get in. They also will tell you that it ensures that no one game makes or breaks a team’s season.

Tell that to the Pittsburgh Pirates and their fans.

In the aftermath of a 4-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves in 19 innings on July 26th (and 27th), the Pirates have gone into a tailspin of epic proportions. That game was the beginning of a stretch of 7 losses in 8 games. The Pirates have gone from a first place tie in the NL Central to being in third place, 5.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers.

All of this, as the result of arguably the worst blown call by an umpire in the history of baseball.

Before I get into that, let me state that I do not like blaming officials. By and large, the players on the playing surface decide who wins and loses. Blaming officiating tends to mask mistakes made by the players that cause them to lose.

But, in this case, the call actually decided who won the game. Not saying the Pirates would have ultimately won the game. This call, however, did not allow the Pirates to win or lose the game on merit. Jerry Meals’ call, which I won’t get into detail because everyone who is reading this either has seen the play or can go find it in 5 seconds, prevented the fair outcome of the game from occurring. After using just about every player on the roster, some for far too long, it’s a massive stomach punch to lose a game in that manner.

Teams tend to get their mettle tested after something of this nature. A lot of adversity is heaped upon a team, with exhausted and frustrated players having to come back to play another game 17 hours later. It’s not as easy for players to put a game like this behind them. It tends to linger or fester, with all the replays shown on TV, and the media wanting to talk about it, and fans complaining about it, and the team’s front office releasing a statement about it, and so on. Men that are taught to have short memories inevitably cannot shake this moment from their brains.

As mentioned, the Pirates have stumbled in the aftermath. A team that stood at 53-47 after 100 games, as they took the field for this 19-inning marathon, now has completed two-thirds of their season, and they are wobbling at 54-54. And in the last eight games, the major problem has been pitching. Before the marathon, Pirates pitchers were giving the team consistent turns through the rotation. Since then, here are the rotation’s results:

7/27- @ATL – L, 2-1 (10 Innings) – Maholm: 7IP, 9H, 1R, 1ER, 0BB, 8K
7/28- @ATL – W, 5-2 – Correia: 6.1IP, 9H, 2R, 1ER, 1BB, 3K
7/29- @PHI – L, 10-3 – Morton: 4IP, 9H, 8R, 6ER, 4BB, 4K
7/30- @PHI – L, 7-4 – McDonald: 5IP, 10H, 5R, 5ER, 2BB, 5K
7/31- @PHI – L, 6-5 (10 Innings) – Karstens: 7IP, 7H, 3R, 3ER, 2BB, 5K
8/1- v. CHC – L, 5-3 – Maholm: 6IP, 6H, 4R, 4ER, 3BB, 3K
8/2- v. CHC – L, 11-6 – Correia: 2IP, 10H, 8R, 8ER, 0BB, 2K

[EN: Per Griggsy’s request, it is to be noted that this was written prior to the loss to the Cubs on 8/3, as such those stats have not been included.]

Now, to be fair, of the seven games after the marathon, there were 3 awful starts, 1 average start, 1 good start, and 2 great starts. But it’s not just the starts themselves. It’s also the workload on the bullpen that is making the pitching staff as a whole fall apart. After the bullpen worked 13.1 of 18.1 innings in the marathon, they were forced to pitch 24.1 of 61.2 innings in the seven games since. For relief pitchers that were thriving on a reasonable number of innings, this change in workload for them has turned the bullpen into a disappointing entity as a whole. This is without even mentioning the inconsistent usage of the best reliever, Joel Hanrahan.

To review, this is now a struggling (at best) rotation, an overworked bullpen, and a confusingly used closer. It’s no wonder that the team has lost 7 of 8 games now. With the offense sputtering along (3.75 runs per game in the last eight, consistent with the 3.84 runs per game average for the season), the pitching has to be similarly consistent with the season totals. Obviously, giving up 5.88 runs per game will not cut it (nearly two full runs over the 3.94 runs allowed per game average for the year).

For those of you looking to take this forward a step, you’d ask how the Atlanta Braves are doing over this post-marathon stretch of games. If the Pirates players are worn out, the Braves played the same game, and would be similarly worn out. This has shown slightly for the Braves, as they are 4-4 over those same eight days, dropping their last three. The fatigue may be catching up with them a little bit now, but it did not in the immediate aftermath. Including the 19-inning game, the Braves went 4-1 right away. The momentum and adrenaline provided by winning that game carried the Braves in the short-term, allowing them to stay afloat despite fatigue issues. This has kept them in control of the NL Wild Card lead, albeit a slightly shrinking lead. Meanwhile, if the Pirates had gone 4-4 instead of 1-7 in these last eight games, they would be sitting in a 2nd place tie in the division, only 2.5 games behind a hot Milwaukee team.

Is the 2011 season over for the Pittsburgh Pirates, at least in terms of playoff contention? Not quite, but it is certainly at the precipice. They are a team teetering on the edge, and one more turn through the rotation with bad results would send them falling away for sure. Jerry Meals’ call didn’t devastate the season for the Buccos, but he has given them a push that may send them falling back to earth, hard, after four months of climbing towards the pennant.

Pens Preview: Marc-Andre Fleury

I have been known to be something of a “Fleury hater” for many years. I don’t like the term “hater” because that implies a complete and total illogical dislike of a player for reasons that cannot be logic’d or discussed. When I would discuss Fleury’s previous disappointments I would do so with facts and figures and it usually got people to either get real quiet or jump on the “well, I’m a better fan because I don’t criticize players on my team” wagon. This season was truly a tale of two players. I’m happy to say he shut me the Hell up and did his job. With that, I give you the Pens Preview: Marc-Andre Fleury.

Amazing how much leeway having your name on the Cup nets you when dealing with critics.

Do goaltenders get unjust criticism and unjust praise? Yes, they do. Much in the same way quarterbacks in the NFL get unjust criticism and undue praise (Trent Dilfer, circa 2000 Ravens, I’d like a word), but it is also part of the job and position. A goaltender has to be mentally tough. There is so little room for error and every movement and mistake is magnified because of being the only player of that position on the ice for your team. Mistakes often lead to goals. Many goals lead to losses. Thus, goaltender mistakes are the cause of losses, thus the goaltender is the cause of the loss. Anyone who watches any sport knows that very rarely can one man be blamed, wholly and exclusively for a loss. Poor goaltending is one of those areas where you can point to a specific instance for a loss.

If that doesn’t begin when I time stamped it, skip to the 8:50 mark. If you want to see a bad goal, that is a bad goal. It’s a bad technical goal because of not having his stick in position and from leaving a gaping hole between his pads and it was an atrociously bad goal because he allowed that with less than two minutes to play in a tie game in the 3rd period. A goal that should never, ever, ever be allowed by a professional goaltender is bad enough, but they happen. To allow Scott Gomez’s eyebrows to score that goal late in a game and lose in the same manner (i.e. atrocious goaltending) to the team responsible for eliminating you from playoffs the year before? Yikes. You’d think you’d be able to get up for a game like that and show you put the previous season behind you. At the start of the year? Nah, the Flower had none of that. I was one of the lone voices in 2010 indicating he was a major weakness on a lazy team and everyone called me a bad fan and how I didn’t know what I was talking about. Well, his 2011 season started off exactly as his 2010 season ended.

65GP, 62GS, 56:51TOI, 36W, 20L, 5OTL, 143GA, 2.32GAA, 1742SA, 1599SV, 918SV%, 3SO

In the first 10 games played by no. 29, the Pens went 4-6 (the team’s first win came with Brent Johnson between the pipes) and Flower allowed 28 goals on 219 shots. One of the team wins was on November 6 when Fleury was pulled after 6:56 ice time when he allowed 2 goals on 5 shots. Within the first 10 games he was boasting a killer .845 SV%. It makes one wonder how he finished with such stellar numbers and how he became THE most important player down the stretch when he started out so rough.

Thankfully the Cup isn’t awarded in October or November. Thankfully Dan Bylsma found his spine and benched Fleury as he continued to cost the team games and valuable points. Everyone made jokes and comments about the playoffs don’t start in October, but every point matters. Need I remind everyone just how crucial a few of those lost points were at the end of the season? One more point and we would have won the Atlantic division. Really, though, I feel the season and turnaround in MAF’s game came hinged on him being benched and getting his mind straight. That little win streak and Crosby’s unreal point streak helped from mid-November helped, but sometimes things come together as they need to. In this case, Flower got sat down and the team started getting together.

I will say this – I am glad that Fleury was garbage to begin the year and Johnny played out of his mind because I had the best Halloween costume I’ve ever made:

Looking at the stats, it was a pretty impressive season overall for Marc-Andre. Started 62 games, no major injuries, had excellent relief in Brent Johnson, posting a 36-20 record and, more importantly, a .918SV% and 2.32GAA. A .918SV% was good enough for 15th overall in the NHL and the 2.32 GAA placed him 9th in the NHL among goaltenders. Either way you slice it, Fleury finished the season as a top-half of the league goaltender. It is imperative to note how the defense played, too, down the stretch. Flower and his D reliably held opposing teams to 2 goals or fewer per game. Sadly, Fleury’s very, very bad start caused his stats to be a little less impressive.

More importantly, and this is never really shown in the statistics, is the quality of the saves and the importance of the saves. In 2010 MAF was known for giving up soft and poorly timed goals. To start 2011 he was also giving up the same poorly timed and soft goals. He gave up bad goals. As the season moved on he made BIG saves. He made important saves. He eliminated the back-breaking and painful goals (like the one to Gomez linked above). He made the saves that a big time goaltender needed to make. Previously he wasn’t making those (less some huge saves in the ’09 Cup run). Even though the end result was not what we had all hoped, “history stops everything.”

Sadly the Pens’ popgun offense was not enough to overcome Fleury playing out of his mind and allowing two goals or fewer regularly from about January onward. In December and January he only had one game where his save percentage was below .900 (12/26 vs OTT). Month by month, 29’s SV% was as follows:

October: .863

November: .931

December: .931

January: .942

February: .899

March: .916

If you are partial to seeing things in action instead of on paper (or on a computer screen), just take a look at this:

And the Shootouts. How could we ignore the shootouts? Everyone joked about the Pens going to so many shootouts as the season went on, but the goaltender is the most important part of the shootout. By record, MAF was 2nd best in the NHL in Wins in a shootout (with 8). Overall in the SO, Flower had an .842SV%, facing 38 shots and allowed only 6 goals. A truly, truly astonishing feat, considering how the modern shootout is stacked against the goaltender. And, of course, we can never forget that we got to see some of the flourish that goes into the shootout preparation. Roll that beautiful bean footage:

Overall, Flower performed statistically better at home, but had a disproportionate amount of losses (largely due to the early season) compared to road games. At home, 29 showed a .924SV% and a 2.17GAA. On the road he posted a .911SV% and 2.51GAA. In overall wins, he posted a .940%, whereas in losses he posted a .880%. The old adage of “the team that scores more goals wins,” but the goaltender plays a vital role in that bearing true. If Fleury was having a bad game, there was typically a loss attached to it. When looking at save percentage with regard to days of rest between games, Fleury showed to be much better as an active goaltender than one with substantial time between games. When playing two games back to back he averaged a .925%; with 1 day of rest he posted a .915%, but with 2 days of rest he kipped up to a .938%, but with 3 or more days off he dropped terribly to .894%.

Statistically, it was a very good year. 143 goals allowed was the fewest he’s allowed when playing 50 or more games. Likewise, 2.32 is the lowest GAA he’s ever had in his NHL career. It was also his best save percentage (again with a minimum of 50 games). The only area where he was a “disappointment” was only having 3 shutouts on the season, which was an uptick from last season when he only had 1, but a drop from the two seasons prior, both in which he had 4 shut outs.

It truly was a magical year for Marc-Andre. He started off poorly, got benched, took his benching like a man, earned back his starting job and then kept the team in so many games. I fear there will be a little bit of a drop off next season, but I’m hopeful he can play consistently, as that has always been an issue until this year, and keep doing what works for him. It is so hard to really evaluate a goaltender just by looking at a stat line because, as mentioned above, there are intangibles surrounding the quality and timeliness of saves and making a big save to swing momentum or deflate another team. This year, MAF had “it.” The element to his game that had been missing was rediscovered and hopefully he doesn’t lose it again. Looking ahead to next season, here’s how I see the major statistics breaking down:

67GP, 65GS, 57:03TOI, 38W, 17L, 4OTL, 136GA, 2.41GAA, 1715SA, 1579SV, .911SV%, 5SO.

I expect a good year out of MAF. I fear he may have a little bit of up-and-down play. He’ll tick those SO numbers up because he’s got an all-world defense in front of him most of the night, but I think will have a very slight fall off from this season’s numbers because he’ll have a little more offense in front of him and he can gamble on things like the pokecheck and/or getting off his leash and attempting to play the puck (Marc, please stop – stay in the crease, don’t try to play the puck. Hextall and Brodeur you ain’t).

Oh, how silly of me, I forgot the most important stat: 1 B-Boy pose

Let’s go Pens.

 

 

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑