Blue Jays season is over but they still lose big

I haven’t written a baseball posting on this blog in over four years. I didn’t even write anything about the Jays when they clinched the postseason for the first time in 22 years, or when they came back to win a 5 game series when down 2 games to 0, or when finally succumbed to a very good Kansas City team in the ALCS. But what happened today is so mind-boggling that I can’t not write about it: Alex Anthopoulos is not returning as the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays. The timing of this announcement is as telling as it is puzzling.

Anthopoulos became the GM of the Jays in 2009 and spent the next six years building the team into the 2015 AL East division champions, a team two wins away from the World Series. And as soon as he breaks the Jays’ 22-year streak of missing the playoffs – the longest of any team in any major North American sport – he decides it’s “no longer a good fit”? No, there’s something else going on here.

But perhaps the timing makes sense after all. During the season, the Jays hired Mark Shapiro to replace Paul Beeston as President of the team at the end of the season and according to one report, Shapiro “scolded” Anthopoulos for trading away too many prospects. Other reports say the contract they offered AA meant that if he had stayed, Shapiro would have had final say on any moves that he wanted to make, effectively making AA the assistant GM. If either of those is true, the Jays should be ashamed because they forced the best GM they’ve had in decades out and in the process, shot themselves in the foot, in a couple of ways.

AA not only brought the Jays back into the playoffs, he put them back in to the hearts, minds, and wallets of the city. Toronto hasn’t seen this much sports excitement since the last Toronto Rock championship the 1993 World Series. Yes, he traded away prospects but you don’t pick up the best 3rd baseman in the game and likely AL MVP, one of the best shortstops in the game, and one of the best starting pitchers in the game without giving up prospects. If he traded away prospects for older players with one last kick at the can, then they’d be right to complain. But those prospects brought in 29-year-old Donaldson, 31-year-old Tulo, and 30-year-old Price, and those three (among others, most of whom were acquired by AA) brought the Jays to the ALCS. He’s set the team up not only to be great this year, but for years to come.

And now he’s gone. This will not sit well with many fans, who see AA’s departure as a virtual firing rather than him just moving on. Make no mistake, the majority of fans couldn’t care less who the GM is and as long as the Jays do well next year, they won’t bat an eye. It’s not like I’m going to boycott the team either, but if deals are made in the off-season that appear to weaken the team in any way, if David Price signs somewhere else and isn’t replaced with another stud starter, or if the Jays don’t compete next season, well, I wouldn’t want to be in Mr. Shapiro’s shoes. And to add insult to injury, Anthopoulos was named the Sporting News Executive of the Year, and was informed of this just moments before the press conference where he announced that he wasn’t returning.


So the Jays may have shot themselves in the foot with the fans, but just as importantly, it’s possible they’ve done the same thing with the players. This whole event doesn’t look good for the Jays, and I only hope it doesn’t have an effect on their ability to sign and trade for players. David Price seemed happy playing for the Jays, but what if he was a fan of AA and doesn’t like the way this played out? He’s a free agent and is going to get top dollar offers from a bunch of teams, and staying in Toronto may not have the draw it did just a week ago. God help us if Josh Donaldson or Jose Bautista demand a trade.

The best case scenario is fine, in which it makes no difference and the team competes again next year. But the worst case is terrible. Price signs elsewhere. Other free agents don’t want to sign here. Trades to Toronto get blocked by players. Existing players want out. The team doesn’t compete next year. Attendance drops like a rock. The city forgets about the Jays like they did for much of the last two decades. This is admittedly extreme and thus unlikely, but it’s not a scenario you want to even envision, let alone make possible. When you have a young talented GM who’s done as good a job as Anthopoulos has, and loves the team as much as he does, you keep him at all costs. And if that means the new president has less power, that’s just too damn bad for him.

Another great quote from twitter: “Anthopolous [sic] being declared exec of the year during the conference call about his departure is the most Toronto sports moment of all time.”

A&W and steroids

We had lunch at an A&W a little while ago, and were inundated with more of their talk of how their beef is raised without any added hormones or steroids. They actually state this on their website as a “guarantee“. They’ve been saying this for a while now, including “man on the street” interviews in their commercials, where people are all impressed at this great decision that A&W has made.

(We’ll ignore the fact that a steroid is a hormone, so talking about “hormones or steroids” is redundant; you could just say “hormones”. But not everybody knows that (I just found out while researching this article), so we’ll chalk that up to “if we just say hormones, people will ask about steroids so we say both” and let it go. I’ll just use “hormones” in this article to mean both.)

But does it matter? Or is this yet another example of boosting sales and therefore profits through fear mongering?

This “guarantee” implies, but does not state, one of two things:

1. If you raise cattle using added hormones, the extra hormones change the beef to make it taste worse or be less nutritious.

OR (this is kind of a special case of #1)

2. If you raise cattle using added hormones, the extra hormones make it into the beef, and the amount of extra hormones in beef has a non-negligible effect on the health of a human who eats it.

I don’t know if either of these things is true but the implication is that beef with added hormones is less healthy than beef without. But where’s the science to back that up? Nowhere on the A&W web site, I can assure you of that.

Maybe a little too much

But do they need science to back it up? What is it they need to back up? Their web site states many times that their beef is raised “without added hormones or steroids”, and that they’re the only Canadian burger chain that can say that, but they make no other claims. Nowhere do they say that their burgers are healthier because of it. They don’t really need to prove their burgers are healthier, because they don’t claim they are. If you read that into what they’re saying, that’s up to you. Clever.

They also talk about their impact on the environment and sustainability, but again it’s all implication. They don’t claim that anything they do is more environmentally friendly.

However, on an agriculture blog, we see that if growth hormones were not used on cattle, we’d need 12% more cattle, 10% more land, 11% more feed, 4% more water, and 7% more fuel and fertilizer to produce the same amount of beef. (These numbers come from the Beef Cattle Research Council) Removing hormones is hardly contributing to sustainability.

The amount of hormones we’re talking about here makes you wonder if the whole argument is really meaningful anyway. Actually, it doesn’t make you wonder at all. The answer is clear: No, it’s not. Once again, we find that just like with all other so-called “toxins”, the dose makes the poison. First off, all beef contains hormones. 500g of beef without added hormones contains 5 nanograms (billionths of a gram) of hormones (specifically estrogen). 500g of beef with added hormones contains 7 nanograms. Yes, that’s 40% more, but when you consider that 500g of white bread contains 300,000 nanograms and a pregnant woman creates 20 million nanograms in her body every day, reducing your burger hormone intake from 7 to 5 seems rather meaningless. The bun contains ten thousand times more hormones than the burger.

The A&W web site also states that their chicken is raised without antibiotics. On the same page, they state “Antibiotics are typically injected into the egg and added to the feed in low dosages in order to prevent disease within the chickens and to promote health.” So they are proud that they are not attempting to prevent disease or promote health in their chickens?

On their “Eggs FAQ” page, A&W states that the hens that lay the eggs they use are fed a vegetarian diet and that “Their feed has also been enriched with vitamins D, E, and B12, as well as folacin.” Vitamin D is both a hormone and a steroid. They seem just as proud of giving hormones and steroids to the chickens that lay their eggs as they are proud of not giving any to the cows that provide their burgers.

I think this is misleading advertising and I would call for a boycott of A&W, except for the fact that I like their burgers so I probably would boycott the boycott anyway.

Vacation report: Hershey, Pennsylvania

In 1986, I went on a school trip of sorts to Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania to compete in a computer programming contest, the details of which I’ve already written about. During that trip, we went to the town of Hershey and spent a day at Hersheypark, though I don’t remember any of it. In the summer of 2015, 29 years later, I returned to Hershey with my family (plus one). As I always do, I’ve written up a summary of our trip.

The “plus one” I mentioned is my niece Alison (technically “step-niece” I suppose). She and her mom Sandy drove down from their home in Sudbury the same day as we did, and stayed in a hotel nearby. Sandy had to work the whole trip but Alison came with us to the park on the days we went.

Tuesday, August 25

The trailer was packed from a previous trip and had been sitting in the garage for a couple of weeks. There wasn’t anything we needed to put in the trailer that wasn’t already there, and we couldn’t put anything in the fridge since we can’t bring meats, fruits, or vegetables across the border, so we didn’t even pull it out of the garage beforehand. We packed the van the night before and around 7:30am, we hooked up the trailer and left, stopping at Tim Horton’s for breakfast. An hour later we hit Fort Erie and crossed into Buffalo with no delay at the border. We got onto highway 219 heading south, and stopped near Bradford, Pennsylvania for lunch and gas (insert obvious joke about eating and getting gas here). We continued down 219 to I80 East and at some point, we got onto 322 East which took us right to Hershey. We arrived at the Hershey Camping Resort around 4:00, got checked in, found our site, and started to get set up. This stopped pretty quickly though when the trailer wouldn’t go up.

The battery was completely dead. Because we didn’t have to get into the trailer, we didn’t have it plugged in and the battery must have fully discharged. We did have an electrical site so we plugged the trailer in, put up the dining tent, and then went to find dinner. We figured if we left it plugged in for a couple of hours, it would recharge the battery enough that we could put the trailer up. It didn’t. When we got back from the Pizza Hut just around the corner, the battery still had no power. There’s probably a way to put it up without power but according to the manual it requires a particular sized wrench that we didn’t have.

Nicky and I went to the front desk and asked if they had booster cables or if they knew of a place where we could buy a battery (and any tools we might need to install it). The guy at the desk called their maintenance guy and he came out with a battery pack with booster cables. This was powerful enough for us to get the trailer up, so we were good to go from there. The trailer was going to be plugged in until Friday so we figured 2½ full days of power should be enough to recharge the battery.

After getting set up, we bought our Hersheypark tickets, and since were staying onsite at a Hersheypark resort, our tickets allowed us 3½ hours in the park the day before our first ticket as well as early entry on the other days. We took the shuttle bus from the campground to the park. This was a kind of a recon visit – just getting our bearings in the park and checking out where we wanted to go the next two days. We did do one ride: Reese’s Xtreme Cup Challenge, which is a shooting ride in the same vein as the Buzz Lightyear / Toy Story rides at Disney World. This was a lot of fun and we would end up riding this one numerous times over the next couple of days.

After a couple of hours in the park, we took the shuttle back to the campground and bed.

Wednesday, August 26

We woke up early, had a quick breakfast, and were on the shuttle bus by 8:30 to take full advantage of our early entry. We got in at 9am instead of 10, though only part of the park was open, the rest was blocked. We figured we’d do an hour of rides before meeting Alison (who did not have early entry) at 10. We rode the Comet, a wooden coaster that Nicky loved, Gail and I liked, and Ryan didn’t like at all. Ryan’s just not a roller coaster kid, and neither Gail nor I can handle the big coasters like we used to. Nicky loves them though – the bigger the better. Just as we finished that, we got a text from Alison saying that she had managed to get into the park before opening. We never did figure out how, but that was good.

We did the Reese Xtreme Cup Challenge again, then lined up to get to the rest of the park at 10am. We didn’t even know what to head for once the rope dropped, but someone else said that Laff Trak is the newest coaster and that’s where everyone will be headed. We headed there too and waited about a half hour, which turned out to be a good idea since the line for that ride never dropped under an hour for the next two days. This was an awesome ride. It’s an indoor roller coaster but the trick is that each car has four seats – two facing forwards and two facing backwards. The car occasionally spins around so you end up going down some hills forwards and others backwards. Very fast, very exciting, and we all loved it – even Ryan. Alison, it turns out, is even less of a roller coaster kid (I’m misusing the word “kid” here – Alison is 19) than Ryan and she didn’t like it at all. That said, she did ride it again the next morning and didn’t mind it so much.

Road runner!We did various rides the rest of the day which I won’t try to list. Nicky did a couple of coasters by himself since nobody else wanted to do them. Ryan and Alison may not like coasters much, but if it spins, they were riding it. Gail and I mostly watched, though we each rode a couple of things. Lunch was at a sandwich place near Kissing Tower Hill. After lunch we went over to Zoo America, which is included in the ticket price. It’s not a big zoo, but they had some cool exhibits including a desert area complete with burrowing owls, road runners, and big tortoises; a dark area with bats, spiders, a “swift fox” and an ocelot; prairie dogs; elk; bears; huge bald eagles; and a beautiful bobcat. I love zoos, as do my kids, and we all enjoyed this one.

After the zoo we returned to the park for more rides until dinner time. We returned to the camping resort where Sandy met us with a couple of pizzas from a local place. After dinner, we went back to the park for some more rides, and returned back to the campsite, thoroughly exhausted, by 10:00.

Thursday, August 27

Thursday started off like Wednesday: up early, quick breakfast, on the shuttle around 8:30, in the park at 9, a couple of rides, wait in line for the rope drop, high-tail it over to Laff Trak, wait half an hour, then ride and laugh for a minute and a half. Things diverged from there though, as day 2 was a water park day. Nicky decided to forego the water park for a while in favour of more coasters (since he had to ride them by himself anyway), and Gail stayed in the park with him while Ryan, Alison, and I got changed and headed to the water park. They both tried the Waverider, which is basically a surfing simulation. I took some video of them, though I started watching Ryan rather than watching the camera so I shot 10 seconds of the ground: the first is Ryan and then Alison. Ryan never got the hang of it and got thrown over the top a couple of times. Alison also fell twice and I thought she was done so I stopped filming. They let her try again and the second video is of Alison totally nailing it.

There were six water slides though I only did four of them. I love water slides, and these were very fun though the water was pretty chilly. It wasn’t exactly perfect water park weather, actually, since it was in the mid-20’s (low 80’s F) and overcast. At lunch time, we found Gail and Nick and went to Nathan’s where Gail and I had excellent Philly cheesesteaks and fries, Ryan had a burger, Nicky had a couple of corn dogs, and Alison had chili fries.

A couple of coasters from the gondola. Ryan and Alison are in car #13After lunch, Gail headed back into the park to see a dance show and the rest of us hit the wave pool (frigid!) and lazy river. After that, Ryan and I were done but Nicky and Alison wanted to do more slides so they went back to the slide area while we got dressed. After some sliding, they came back so Nicky could give the Waverider a try, and he also nailed it. If you watch the video, you can hear the operator telling me he could have a career in surfing. He and Alison then got dressed and we did a couple more rides before meeting Sandy in town at Fenicci’s of Hershey where we had an excellent Italian meal.

Thursday ended like Wednesday did: back to the park after dinner, more rides, back to the campsite around 10.

Friday, August 28

Friday morning we slept in a little before packing up. Our assumption from Tuesday turned out to be incorrect – the trailer battery was still completely dead. We got a boost from the maintenance guy again, then parked the trailer in the overflow lot (big thanks to the Hersheypark Camping Resort people for being so accommodating!) and took the shuttle back over to Hershey’s Chocolate World, which is right next to Hersheypark. There’s a huge store where you can buy all kinds of Hershey and Reese stuff like shirts, hoodies, hats, toys, and collectables of every kind as well as TONS of chocolate. A number of flavours of Hershey’s Kisses are for sale there that you can’t find anywhere else (pumpkin spice, candy corn, macadamia nut) as well as five pound Hershey bars and half-pound Reese’s peanut butter cups. There’s also a “make your own candy bar” thing that was expensive (so we skipped it) and a free tour of a reproduction of the factory.

After coming off of the tour, a lady stopped us (me and the boys) and asked if we wanted to participate in a survey about non-chocolate candy. We said sure so she brought us into a room with a bunch of cubicles with iPads. We answered a few questions and ate a soda cracker (to “cleanse our palates”), then she gave us some candy which were similar to Rockets or Sweetarts and we answered some more questions about them. This took no more than a couple of minutes, and we each got a Hershey bar on the way out as a gift!

Our next adventure was a very entertaining and fun trolley tour of the town of Hershey. There were two tour guides – the funny guy and the straight man (or woman in this case). The funny guy kept getting off the bus and then coming back on later dressed as a character from history and tell us about life at whatever time he was supposed to be from. Then he’d get off, we’d continue the tour, and he’d come back dressed as someone else. He was pretty funny and the other guide was smokin’ hot very informative and there was free chocolate so it was a win all around. Except for the people behind us – a group of idiots at the back of the bus were loudly yammering away the entire trip and so nobody in the back half of the bus could hear what the tour guides were saying. At least two people politely asked them to be quiet but it had no effect. The rudeness of some people never ceases to amaze me.

Sandy & Alison had stricter time constraints than we did (not to mention their drive was 4½ hours longer than ours) so they headed home right after the tour. We went back inside to do the 4D movie and some more shopping. The movie was fun; the narrator was an animated talking chocolate bar but there must have been a guy in a motion capture suit behind the scenes, since the chocolate bar responded in real time to the audience. This was very cool.

Several coasters visible, and the Milton Hershey School in the distanceOnce we finished there, we took the shuttle back to the campground where we picked up the van and drove into town to The Hershey Story, which was a museum dedicated to the town and company founder, Milton Hershey. Ol’ Milt was was quite the impressive man. He started four different businesses, each of which failed and left him bankrupt before he finally got successful not with chocolate, but with caramels. Once he realized that his biggest customers were buying his caramels and coating them in chocolate, he sold the caramel business and started a chocolate company. Then once he was hugely rich, he left his entire fortune (about $60 million in 1918) to the private school for underprivileged kids that he and his wife (Catherine, who he called “Kit Kat” and named a chocolate bar after) founded. The school is still running, educating over 2,000 kids from across the US for free, and the trust he created for the school still owns the entire Hershey corporation and is now worth billions.

After sampling some chocolate from around the world (Mexico – yuck, Venezuela – YUM), we went back to the campground to pick up the trailer, then got gas and hit the road. We drove north and east to Shamoken Dam PA, about an hour away. We checked into the Hampton Inn, and walked across the street to a place called Red Robin for dinner. We’d heard of this chain but knew nothing about it and damn, were we impressed. Gail, Nicky, and I all had burgers that were outstanding, with great fries as well, and Ryan loved his fish & chips. Dinner was so good that I tweeted to Red Robin, asking them to please open restaurants in Canada. They replied that they had some, but they’re only in BC and Alberta. Ontario please!

We love our trailer, and the beds are quite comfortable (and an order of magnitude nicer than sleeping on the ground), but man were the Hampton Inn beds nice that night.

Saturday, August 29

After breakfast at the hotel, we tried to leave for home. We really did. But the van must have seen what fun we had with the dead trailer battery that it decided to have a go. No engine start, no lights, it wouldn’t even unlock the doors. Completely dead. For the third time in five days, we needed a jump start. The hotel manager gave us a hand and once we got the van started, we drove north on route 15 all the way to the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY. This may not sound like the most exciting place ever, but we were really impressed. There were a number of demonstrations and shows including glass blowing (the guy turned a blob of glass into a beautiful vase in 15 minutes right in front of us), flameworking (a different guy turned a couple of glass rods half an inch wide into a goblet in 15 minutes right in front of us), glass breaking (more about the differences between standard, bulletproof, and tempered glass and how heat and pressure affects them), and fiber optics. There was a lot to see and we didn’t see it all so we may have to go back there again.

After the museum we drove north to Bath, NY where we stopped at a Ponderosa. This was kind of a nostalgia thing for me and Gail since we both remember going to Ponderosa as kids but they haven’t been in Canada for 30+ years. For a buffet, it was pretty inexpensive but there wasn’t a ton of variety. After dinner we continued north and west through Batavia and Buffalo to Niagara Falls, crossed at the Peace Bridge after a 15-minute wait at the border, then arrived home around 10pm.

Other random notes:

  • The roads in New York on the way down were terrible. Bumpy with potholes everywhere. The second we crossed the border into Pennsylvania, things were much better. On the way back, we expected to hit the opposite once we crossed back into New York, but those roads had been freshly paved and were great. I guess they hadn’t gotten to route 219 yet.
  • When getting on the highway in Pennsylvania, you have to be quick because the merge lanes are about 6 inches long. This is especially fun when you’re pulling a trailer. I don’t know how truck drivers do it.
  • We camped for 3 nights and other than breakfasts, we made no meals at the campground.
  • I thought that visiting Hersheypark might trigger some memories from my 1986 visit, but it didn’t. The closest thing was the Sooper Dooper Looper roller coaster. I don’t remember if we went on it, but I had a very slight memory of the name.
  • On the way to Corning, we drove through a town called Williamsport, where traffic slowed down considerably. It turns out that the Little League World Series takes place here every year, in late August. There were two games on the day we were driving through, including the International Finals, and we were just in time to be in line with all the spectators. The traffic added a good half hour to our drive.
  • We stopped at a Wal-Mart to get Cherry Coke Zero which we can’t get in Canada, but they had none. We did pick up a case of Cherry Diet Pepsi, but it isn’t as cherry-y as the Coke. Going shopping in the US is always fun because they have exciting and delicious things we don’t have in Canada, like pork rinds and aerosol cheese! OK, bad examples.
  • The weather was awesome the whole trip. Mid-high 20’s (low 80’s) the whole time, no rain. A touch warmer on the water park day would have been good, but even that was fine.
  • Kilometers driven: 1250.2
  • After trickle-charging the trailer battery overnight, it’s fully charged now. Thought you’d want to know.

Parapan Am report: Goalball

After 5-a-side football last weekend, our Parapan Am experience concluded with the bronze and gold medal matches of goalball yesterday. We knew nothing about this sport except that it has a boring name, and so we had no real idea what to expect. I looked it up on Wikipedia to see the rules but never thought to search Youtube for video, or even watch Parapan Am matches on TV. It’s a sort of handball for blind athletes, but without the end-to-end action – the players don’t move around much and spend most of the game lying down. Similar to the 5-a-side football, the players are visually impaired to varying degrees and so all of them wear blindfolds. Unlike the football, there’s nobody on the floor who can see.

The floor is smaller than a standard hockey rink (60′ x 30′) and is divided into 6 sections that span the width of the floor. The sections closest to the nets are the team areas, the next is the landing zone, and the middle two are the neutral zone. The sections are separated by twine that’s taped to the floor with black tape (so the players can feel them and the refs can see them), and the out-of-bounds lines are all have twine and tape as well. In addition, the team areas have shorter lines with twine as well, so the players can orient themselves within the box. The goal also spans the width of the floor and is about 5 feet high. The ball is about the size of a basketball and has a bell in it, though it was much harder to hear than the football one (which had multiple bells).

Argentina getting ready to shoot

Each team has 3 players on the floor, all of whom act as goaltenders when they’re playing defensively. One player on the team will throw or roll the ball towards the other side, and the ball must bounce in his own landing zone and the neutral zone (if it doesn’t, that’s a penalty shot for the other team). The players on the other team listen for the ball and attempt to stop it by lying on their side and stretching out their arms and legs as far as possible. Whether or not they stop the ball, they have ten seconds to throw it back.

While certainly entertaining, it wasn’t the most exciting or action-packed sport I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t like football where the teams were interacting or running from one end to the other – it was much more individual than that. Team A takes a shot on team B, then B shoots on A, and it keeps going back and forth. There were a few penalty shots where a single player must defend the entire net. This usually leads to a goal since he has to wait until he hears where the ball is going and usually doesn’t have time to get to it – but the shooter doesn’t always shoot in the right direction so we saw some saves and a penalty shot or two miss the net entirely.

We did figure out a couple of strategies: Rolling it makes it harder to hear and easier to hit the required sections of floor, but also easier to stop. Throwing it so that it bounces makes it harder to defend since it can bounce over you, but it’s also harder to hit the landing and neutral zones and the bounces make it louder. Considering none of the players can see, much of the play seemed rather random since the shooter really has no idea where to shoot. That being said, both of the games we saw were one-sided (you are less likely to get one-sided games if everything’s random) and it was obvious who the really good players were. For example, despite getting beaten 13-3, #4 on Argentina was really good at anticipating where the ball was going, and even when it was going to bounce. He stopped a couple from bouncing over him purely by positioning himself properly – not just lying down and hoping it would hit him, but moving forward or back so he was in the right place when it bounced. While the cameraman next to the net got hit by rolling balls a couple of times, we saw very few balls thrown wild – many went out of bounds, but usually not by much. This is even more impressive when you realize that many players spun 360° before shooting to translate that momentum into more speed. If that spin is off by just a few degrees, you’re throwing the ball into the crowd. That never happened.

Like I said, it looks random, but I think it basically comes down to people that are really good at something difficult making it look easy.

Canada scores, Argentina almost does

We saw two games. The bronze medal game was Canada vs. Argentina, and Canada won handily, 13-3. There’s a mercy rule in goalball, so once Canada took a 10-goal lead, the game was over. There were only about 2 minutes left in the game anyway (they play two halves of 12 minutes each).

The second game was the gold medal game between the US and Brazil. That looked like it was going to end up the same way, as Brazil led 8-2 at the half. The US stepped up defensively in the second half and only allowed 2 more goals, but they could only score two themselves and lost 10-4. This game featured far fewer balls thrown out of bounds than the first one and some excellent goaltending from the Brazilians.

I put two more videos on Youtube: Here’s another goal by Canada, and this is a full minute of action between the US (in red) and Brazil (in yellow).

Parapan Am report: 5-a-side football

Since we had such a great time at the various Pan Am events we went to (beach volleyball, handball, table tennis, and soccer), we decided to check out a couple of Parapan Am events too. Once again, the boys each chose one sport and as it turned out, they each chose one for blind competitors.

The first was 5-a-side football, which is basically soccer for blind athletes. There are four forwards and one goalie on each team, and they play regular soccer with a few differences: (1) the field is much smaller than a regular soccer field, (2) there are boards along the sides so the ball can bounce off, (3) the ball has bells in it, (4) the forwards are all blindfolded (to eliminate any advantages that partially sighted players have over completely blind players), and (5) there are “guides” along the sides and one behind the goal who can yell instructions to the players. There are other rule changes but those are the main ones. I didn’t see any hand balls called but I assume that’s still not allowed, and I think they’ve removed the offside rule.

Argentina vs. Uruguay

Uruguay players in red, goalie in yellow. Argentina players in blue and white, their goalie (#1) is in orange. The guys in the middle in gold are the referees, and the guys at each end with the yellow vest things are the “main” guides who stood behind the opposing nets. Each team had two or three other guides who stood along the side boards.

Before we went, I was looking forward to hearing what the guides were saying. Do they have code words for where to move and how far and whether other players are nearby and what direction to face and stuff like that? Or perhaps they simply yell stuff like “the ball is 3 steps to your left and forward one step… OK now turn your body a little bit clockwise… left foot! Shoot NOW!” Unfortunately, the only countries playing this sport in the Parapan Am games were from South America, so all of the guides were yelling in either Spanish or Portuguese, so I still don’t know what they were saying.

The players didn’t run all that fast, and their running looked a little strange since they bounce the ball back and forth between their feet to keep control. They run and dribble much more gently than regular soccer. But then when they shoot it, BLAM! It’s as hard as any soccer player you’ll see anywhere else.

Yes, there were bells in the ball so you could hear it but it really wasn’t that loud. It was certainly odd to be a at a sporting event where the players (and guides) were louder than the fans. They asked for silence from the fans during the game and they got it. Goals and great plays would get some brief applause but in general we were all very quiet. At one point a loud helicopter flew overhead, and they stopped the game for 30 seconds until the sound diminished enough that they could hear again.

Both games we saw were very one-sided. The first was Argentina over Uruguay 6-0. Argentina had 41 “attempts” (presumably shots), 28 of which were on target (i.e. shots on net), while Uruguay had only 4 attempts and only one on target. The other game was Brazil over Chile by the same 6-0 score. The attempts were 31-5 (22-2 on target) for Brazil, and they had 4 straight goals scored by the same guy.

Argentina scores their second goal of the match. No idea what I did to make the video B&W.

While watching the two games we saw, the word “courage” came to mind for two main reasons. First, obviously it takes courage to not simply say “I’m blind so I can’t play sports”. Just getting out there and trying to play takes some serious cojones. Secondly, you’re on a big field with other players and you can’t see. If it were me, I’d be walking as slowly as possible with my arms in front of me. Not only were these guys not wandering around aimlessly hoping to randomly kick the ball in the right direction, they knew where they were going, and they ran. There were a few collisions and a couple of times we had teammates fighting each other for the ball (until the guides, presumably, straightened them out) but far less than I expected. I think I saw maybe two players accidentally run into the boards in the two games we saw, and in both cases they had already slowed down because they knew they were getting close. These guys are not only running and controlling the ball but they sometimes seem to know when to stop and when and where to shoot. The fact that there were goals scored at all seemed amazing at times, especially given that the goalies had no visual impairments.

Other game notes:

  • Penalty kicks were cool – the ref would move the shooter into position, then the guide behind the net would bang on one post and then the other so the shooter had a good idea where to shoot.
  • When player changes happened, the ref would grab the player being removed and put the player’s hand on his (the ref’s) shoulder, then walk him off the field, and do the same for the player coming on. When getting set up for a corner kick however, the goalie was much less gentle with his teammates. He’d basically grab players by the shoulders and manhandle them into position.
  • Goalies have a tough job. Their crease is really small (probably the same size as a goalie’s crease in hockey, proportional to the net size) and they can’t pick up the ball unless it’s in the crease. It’s possible they can’t touch the ball unless it’s in the crease, because a few times the ball would be just outside the crease and the players couldn’t find it for a few seconds, but the goalie never even attempted to kick it.
  • Along with the video above, I’ve posted two other videos (these ones in colour!) on YouTube: this one is only 12 seconds, but this one is about 30.
  • As soon as the game was over, some players pulled their blindfolds off while others did not. I assume this indicated the players who were partially sighted vs. the blind players.

Today (Saturday), we’re going to see the gold medal game of goalball, which looks like a kind of blind handball sort of thing. I will write about that one next week.

Pan Am report: Table tennis and soccer

This is the third in a series of articles on the 2015 Pan Am games in Toronto. The first covered beach volleyball while the second was about handball.

July 24: Table Tennis

We bought the boys a table tennis table for Christmas last year and they’ve been having a bunch of fun with that, so when we asked them to pick a Pan Am event each to go and see, Nicky chose table tennis. Just like handball and beach volleyball, our ticket got us multiple matches. Unlike the others though, we got as many as we wanted. The games started at 4pm and the last one was scheduled at 9:30, and there were multiple matches going on at one time. We stayed for 6 of them: four women’s single matches and two men’s.

And we thought handball was fast. These players were unbelievable – routinely returning smashes that we could barely see, standing 10 feet away from the table and still returning shots, and spinning the ball so much we could see it curving in the air. Below is a short video of two players warming up before their match. Obviously during the game they weren’t hitting it to the same place repeatedly, but the games were just as fast.

The serves were weird. The player would toss the ball into the air, then hit it forward with lots of backspin and a foot stomp, or sometimes twist their wrist just as they were hitting it to give it side spin. After that, almost every shot was hit with top spin. This makes sense – the more top spin, the faster the ball will go after it hits the table and the harder it is to return.

We saw one rally with an American 15-year-old playing an Argentinian where the American kid would smash it as hard as possible only to see the ball returned – FOUR straight times before his fifth smash finally ended it. There were usually multiple games going on so sometimes you’d be watching one and suddenly you’d hear a loud cheer from those in the crowd who were watching the other game. This could be distracting for the players but I imagine that by the time you get to the Pan Am games, you’re used to it and able to focus on your own game.

One Peruvian player rarely smashed it or even hit it hard – no matter how hard the shot was hit at him, he’d softly hit it back, just making sure to hit the table. It seemed that his goal was just to return it and let the other player mess up, as if he was not trying to win, but just trying not to lose. This worked a surprising number of times; his opponent would try to smash the hell out of it and sometimes miss the table or hit it into the net. The Peruvian did eventually lose but he took it to the sixth game (the matches were best-of-7).

This event was in Markham so we drove rather than taking the train. This worked out well – there was a small handicap parking lot next to the building where they allowed me to drop off Gail and my mother-in-law so they didn’t have to walk the 1km or so from the regular parking lot. Parking was free and there was lots of room. Just like the other events we saw, this one ran smoothly with one exception. When we got to the building from the parking lot, there were no signs indicating where to go, so we headed for what looked like the front door. But there were fences around the building and by the time we found the actual entrance, we’d walked 3/4 of the way around the building. This could have better signed.

July 26: Soccer

For Christmas (2014), my sister bought tickets for my dad and I to go and see the Pan Am soccer gold medal match. Despite the fact that BMO Field is in Exhibition Place right next to the whole Pan Am park, the Pan Am soccer games were held at (what is normally) Tim Horton’s field in Hamilton. MLS season is in full swing so perhaps they didn’t want to have to worry about conflicts with Toronto FC. In any case, this was a much shorter drive for us than to the other events. I drove to MacMaster University, where they had set up a parking area, and then had tons of school buses to shuttle people to the stadium. Parking was $10 but if you pre-booked online it was only $5. The bussing worked out really well and even when there was a long line after the game to get back to the parking lot, the line moved fairly quickly.

It was very hot out but we were in the upper deck of the stadium and there was a nice breeze so it wasn’t stifling. We did bring sunscreen so we didn’t fry, and we also brought a couple of empty water bottles which we filled up at a free water station inside the stadium. Despite the fact that there were signs all over the place saying that you cannot bring food or drink (even water) into the stadium, and a person making frequent PA announcements to this effect, the people in front of us in line were still “surprised” when they were stopped and told to either drink or dump their water. There was a very long line for the water filling station (in the west stands, anyway – I assume there was another one in the east stands), but it moved along pretty quickly.

As for the game itself, it was pretty entertaining for a soccer game. It was Uruguay taking on Mexico and even though I’m not the biggest soccer fan around, I do enjoy watching great players (in any sport) do their thing. The ball movement was excellent, and I was stunned at how far the players, particularly the goalies, could kick. Uruguay scored on a penalty kick only 11 minutes into the game and that turned out to be the only goal. Oddly, when they showed the stats at halftime, Uruguay had one goal and zero shots, so I guess penalty kicks don’t count as shots for some reason.

Uruguay (blue) vs. Mexico (black)

When North American people think of soccer, the first thing many of them think is that soccer players are notorious for faking injuries, and unfortunately, there was plenty of that here too. It’s really rather sad that the when a player goes down, the default assumption is that he’s faking it. I watch a lot of lacrosse, and if I see a lacrosse player hit the floor and the trainer comes out, it rarely crosses my mind that he’s not hurt. It definitely happens in other sports, but not nearly as much as soccer.

There was one play in this game where a player went down and play continued, but he didn’t get up. After a few more seconds of play, the ref blew the whistle and a couple of players went to check on him. One waved the ref over, who waved the trainers in. After a minute or two, I started to believe that maybe this guy actually was injured. The trainers waved in some more people who brought a stretcher onto the field. They carried the player off on the stretcher, and the game continued once they hit the sidelines. Less than a minute later, the “injured” player was jogging back onto the field. “Beautiful game” my ass.

Other game notes:

  • The stadium is normally called “Tim Horton’s Field”, but all mention of this was covered up, and the place was officially referred to as “CIBC Pan Am Soccer Stadium”. I imagine that either Tim Horton’s didn’t want to pay extra during the Pan Am / Parapan Am Games, or they were willing but the Pan Am people wanted too much money. I originally thought that maybe it was an ideology thing; the Pan Am people didn’t want to promote corporate sponsorship so they forced the stadium to cover up the names. The Rogers’ Centre (where the opening and closing ceremonies were) was referred to as the Pan Am Dome, and I assumed it was for the same reason. But that couldn’t have been it, since they just gave it a different corporate sponsor (CIBC), and the beach volleyball facility was sponsored (and named) for Chevrolet.
  • We got lost inside the stadium. Our seats were on level 6, and we wanted to go back to the concourse to fill the water bottles and my dad wanted to look for a T-shirt for my niece. We got into the elevator and ignoring all the signs saying what floor each thing was on, pressed the button for the first floor. This turned out to be deep in the bowels of the stadium and we found quite quickly that we were in the wrong place. We found a staircase and went up a floor but couldn’t go any further up and we found ourselves coming out of a door marked “Staff only”. After looking around some more (finding a room called the “Kickoff Room”), we couldn’t find another staircase so we found the elevator again (even the elevator signs this deep in the building had the “Tim Horton’s Field” signs covered up) and this time went to the third floor.
  • As I mentioned in my handball article, the time on the scoreboard for soccer counts up. Even worse, an arbitrary number of minutes is added to the end of each half to account for time when players were “injured” and the clock kept going during the stoppage in play. Why they can’t just stop the clock when the whistle is blown, I don’t know. But during injury time the clock doesn’t run, so nobody knows how much time is left. This is mind-boggling.
  • Local band Monster Truck played a couple of songs at halftime. I was not familiar with them, but I really liked what I heard and have since bought their album Furiosity.

Overall Pan Am Experience

We had a totally positive experience going to the Pan Am events. The transit solutions were great, getting through security was fine, there were lots of concession options which were not outrageously priced, everything seemed well-organized, and the games themselves were exciting. Like I said before, I wasn’t driving in Toronto every day during the games so I can’t comment on the HOV lane changes or things like that. And I understand that a lot of government money was spent on the games, but I think this whole experience has been good for the economy of southern Ontario and it’s great for the next generation of Canadian athletes. Some of the venues, like beach volleyball, were temporary but we now have a permanent “class 1” velodrome in Milton, one of only two in North America. A bunch of new Olympic-size pool facilities were built and they will remain. From now on, Canadian athletes will be able to use these facilities for training rather than having to leave the country to train elsewhere. This may explain why the 2015 Pan Am games were the best ever for Canada.

This will also help Toronto’s potential bid for the 2024 Olympics. Not only do they now have some of the facilities they will need, but they have experience running a similar event.

The Parapan Am Games are coming to Toronto too; they start next week. We’ve already bought tickets for a couple of events: we will be going to see goalball (sort of handball for the blind) and 5-a-side soccer (also for blind athletes). We didn’t intend on just watching sports for the blind, it just worked out that way.

Pan Am report: Handball

This is the second in a series of articles about the 2015 Pan Am games in Toronto. The first was here, and involved the Pan Am experience itself as well as beach volleyball. This article deals with handball, and the final one covers table tennis and soccer.

Unfortunately, I’m a sucky photographer so I only got one handball picture that was any good, and it isn’t all that good anyway.

July 23: Handball

I was not prepared for how cool handball was going to be. People in lacrosse frequently call it “the fastest game on two feet”, but I think the handball people could put up a good argument. With no exaggeration, the action is constant. There’s no faceoff after goals, so the goalie picks up the ball out of the net, throws it to a teammate halfway up the floor, and we have action again a second or two after the goal.

Handball is similar to other goal-oriented sports; the people on your team try to put the ball in the other team’s net, and vice versa. Obviously in this case, you can simply throw it rather than kick it, hit it with a stick, or throw it using a little net on the end of a stick. The ball is a little over half the size of a basketball, easily palmed. It’s even got some resin rubbed on it to make it a little more sticky. There are six players per side plus a goalie, and the goal is 2 metres (6’6″) tall and 3m (9’9″) wide. Around the goal (which is against the back of the court, so you can’t go behind it) is a huge orange “crease” area, in which nobody is allowed to step except the goalie. The defenders stand around the edge of the crease, and the attackers try to throw the ball over, between, or around them into the net, and there is almost constant passing in order to try to get someone open to do so. The attackers are allowed to jump into the crease, as long as they throw the ball before landing. This gives them quite an advantage (getting them closer so the goalie has less time to react), so it happens a lot; if you didn’t know the rules, you might think after watching a game that you must be in the air to score.

Puerto Rico warming up

To force the constant passing, players are not allowed to hold the ball for more than 3 seconds or more than 3 steps unless they are dribbling. I really didn’t see a lot of dribbling; most of the time it was run-pass-run-pass-run-pass-pass-pass-pass-(lots of passes)-jump-shoot. The game kind of reminded me of a lacrosse power play, in which the attacking team doesn’t give up the ball and passes it around until someone has a decent chance. But there’s also no shot clock so there’s no limit to how long a team can possess the ball.

It’s a very high-scoring sport – each team generally scores between 20 and 35 goals per game. There was one game with a final of 39-38, and the two games we saw were 29-24 and 34-24. In a preliminary game, the eventual goal-medal-winning Brazilian team beat the eventual last-place Dominican team 48-18.

Like I said, almost every shot on net comes from a player in the air. This was very cool and it was surprising how long the players seemed to remain there while deciding where to throw and faking shots.

Nobody is padded in any way. There were no knee, shin, shoulder, kidney, or elbow pads, no helmets, and no gloves, even on the goalies. There were some penalties called (they referred to them as 2-minute “suspensions”), but not many. I’m not sure if grabbing an opponent’s jersey is legal or not since I saw it a number of times with no calls, but it could be a judgement call or the refs (there were two of them) just didn’t see it.

Having said all that about how handball is very fast and high-scoring with constant action, I’m not sure how well it would do as a pro team sport a la hockey or baseball. As much action as there was, it was always the same action. In hockey or lacrosse, you have different strategies for trying to get an open shot – circle behind the net, pass back to players further away to try and draw defenders away from the net, stuff like that. In handball, it seemed like a frenzy to get to the edge of the crease and the only offensive strategies were “pass it to someone else if you’re not open”, while the only defensive strategies were “stand in front of the attackers and make yourself as big as possible”. I’m sure that’s not entirely true and there are strategies that I did not see, just like non-hockey fans who think that the puck bounces around at random and occasionally goes into the net. We enjoyed the games we saw, but I could see the excitement level wearing off quickly the more games you watch.

Other game notes:

  • We saw a couple of breakaways, and the goalies have almost no chance. They basically throw their arms and legs out as wide as they can and hope the ball hits them. This happened a couple of times, and it looks like a great save but in reality there’s just not enough time to see where the ball is going so it’s almost always pure luck.
  • Wikipedia says Goalies can’t come back into their crease while holding the ball but I’m sure I saw them do that a few times.
  • Not all the shots were straight into the net. A few times I saw them take lacrosse-style bounce shots. This was a clever play that was done infrequently enough to fool the goalie, who jumped to stop a high shot, only to watch the ball bounce underneath him. Similarly, there were “change-ups” too, where a player looked like he was going to fire a bullet but waited until the goalie jumped and as he was falling, lobbed a soft shot over him.
  • As in many other international team sports, the clock counts up. This has never made any sense to me. When a player or spectator looks at the clock, he’s never thinking “How long have we been playing?” It’s always “How much time is left?” so why not make the clock count down and show him exactly what he wants to know? Why make the players or spectators do the math?
  • The final score of the first game was 29-24 for Puerto Rico over Canada. One guy (Hector Hiraldo) scored 15 of Puerto Rico’s goals, while nobody else on the team scored more than 5.
  • This was the only event in which I was a participant, although unwillingly and during the warmup. While the teams were warming up, I went down to the court to take a couple of pictures. I was standing just off the floor taking a picture of the Canadian team at the far end when suddenly WHAM! An errant ball came out of nowhere and hit me in the left knee. I didn’t see it coming, and it hit me just as I was taking a picture. It was really moving and it hurt for a few seconds but that was it. I imagine it hurts more when you take 40+ shots each game.
  • Once again, there was nothing on our ticket indicating that we had paid to see two matches, but we did. The second game was a semi-final match between Brazil and Chile and Brazil won that one handily. Brazil ended up winning the gold medal, Chile the bronze. Canada finished 7th of 8 teams.

In the thrilling conclusion to our three-part series, we discuss Pan Am table tennis and the football (soccer) gold medal game.