Category Archives: Sports

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.”


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.

Pam Am report: Beach Volleyball

When I first heard that the Pam Am games were coming to Toronto, my first thought was “Oh great, traffic is going to SUCK”, as if that were the biggest impact it would have on the city. I was probably right about the traffic, though we don’t drive into Toronto all that often so it doesn’t really affect us. But then when tickets became available, we took a look and found that they were quite reasonable. We figured this is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of event, so we should check it out. Toronto has bid for the Olympics in the past and may be bidding again in the future, but they’re talking 2024. Ryan will turn 25 that year.

Your standard kazoo-playing land-based synchronized swimmersWe had each of the boys choose an event that they wanted to see. After looking over the events, Ryan chose handball and Nicky chose table tennis. I added in beach volleyball since I’ve been playing during the summer at work for the past 5-6 years. We ended up getting tickets for those three events, and for Christmas, I got tickets from my sister to see the soccer final with my dad. The tickets were $20 each (for each event) for adults and $10 each for the boys, so really not that bad. There were better seats for more money and the medal round games were more expensive too, but we figured we’re seeing the best players in the world anyway. If we end up seeing the 7th best handball team against the 8th best rather than #1 and #2, we won’t know the difference.

I was a little concerned about transportation, but it was not a problem at all. I knew the Pam Am organizers had arranged with the GO Train people as well as a bunch of municipal transit authorities (TTC, Mississauga, Markham, Hamilton, etc.) for signage and extra routes and things like that to make it easy to get places without driving, but I only found out a week or two before that it was all free as long as you had a ticket for a Pam Am event. This, plus the fact that 2 of the 4 events we were going to see were at Exhibition place, made it much easier. The table tennis was up in Markham and we could have taken the GO train there as well, but that would have been at least two hours each way so we ended up driving there. The soccer was in Hamilton, so I drove to a parking lot at McMaster (and pre-booked my spot, which cost me $5 instead of $10), where they had arranged busses to get you to the stadium.

On to the events we saw.

July 20: Beach Volleyball

As I said, I play beach volleyball in the summer so I was excited to be able to watch the best beach volleyball players in the world. We took the train in to Exhibition Place where the Chevrolet Beach Volleyball Centre is located, right behind BMO Field. Obviously this is an outdoor venue, so we were a little worried that we’d all end up with heatstroke or sunburn, or we’d have to leave the game early because we were just too hot. Fortunately, we got lucky with the weather; it was mid-high 20’s and partly cloudy all day, so we didn’t bake in the sun. This was especially lucky since the previous two days were hotter and way more humid.

Chevrolet Beach Volleyball CentreAs I mentioned we bought our tickets months in advance, so we had no idea who we were going to see. It turned out to be a women’s qualifying match between Colombia and Costa Rica. The Colombians took game one, then Costa Rica came back and won game two, and the tiebreaker was close all the way until Colombia pulled it out right at the end. Obviously the teams were pretty evenly matched, and that made for some exciting games. One thing I noticed about these women – almost no volleys. I was expecting “bump-set-spike”, “bump-set-spike”, “bump-set-spike” on almost every rally and that’s what we got, but the sets were almost always bumps, not volleys.

Once the match was over, we expected to head out and tour Pan Am park a little bit before taking the train home. But before we left, we noticed that nobody else was leaving. A few people did get up and head to the stairs, but it looked like the same number of people who might head to the washrooms or go grab a drink at halftime. The guy next to me was reading something on his phone but hadn’t made any move to leave so I asked him, “There’s just one match, right?” He said no, your ticket gets you two matches. There was nothing on the ticket that indicated this, so we were pleasantly surprised and were happy to stick around for a second.

The second match was a men’s match between Puerto Rico and Uruguay. This one wasn’t quite as close as the first one; Uruguay dominated both games and we never got to a third game. The men volleyed a little more often than the women, but I thought some of the volleys were a little too close to catch-and-toss. Indeed, two men were called for lifts, while none of the women were. The men also jumped higher than the women, which was evident in the number of spikes that hit the net (the women had more) or successful blocks (the men had more). Both the men and women had a few beautiful rally-saving dives and players going way out of bounds to play an errant ball coming from such a dive – and even when playing one of those, they were still trying to set their teammate up for the spike.

My goal of watching the best players in the world and picking up a few tips to improve my own game may have been a little optimistic. Here are some of the tips I got: “don’t make mistakes”, “hit it where you intend to hit it”, and “don’t change your mind from bump to volley when the ball is only 2 feet away”. Seriously though, I did get one tip – bump further up your arms. When I bump, I have my thumbs overtop of my open right palm and I try to hit it on the base of my hands or my wrists. The Pan Am players were bumping it much further up their arms, halfway to their elbows in many cases. The part of your arms that hits the ball is much flatter in that case, so you have more control and less chance of hitting it way off to the right or left.

Other game notes:

  • There was a guy with a microphone who tried to get the crowd worked up during breaks in play and between the games. He did a good job, and one of his “bits” was something I’d never seen before and I loved it. They played some slow classical music and he got The Wave going, but really slowly – slow enough that you were raising your arms one at a time rather than together. Then after a while they switched to some fast music, and he had us speed it up, and then slow it down again when they slowed the music down. After having seen the wave at sporting events for 30 years, I’ve grown tired of it but I’d never seen it done slowly and I thought it was really cool.
  • There were some concession stands and a couple of food trucks inside the gates of the beach volleyball centre. Prices were expensive, but I’ve seen worse. A 500 mL bottle of water or Coke was $4, but the same thing will cost you $5.25 at the ACC during Rock games. We also got ice cream drumsticks for $4 each. Again, not great but we’ve seen worse.

Costa Rica (near) vs. Colombia (far)I have two more articles in this series. The next will cover handball and the last will cover table tennis and soccer.

The weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at a sporting event

I’ve been to close to 200 pro lacrosse games over the last 14 years. In that time, I’ve seen some weird things: a player sent off the floor by the referee because he was wearing Nike shoes instead of Reeboks, a player step on another player’s back while walking back to the bench, goalies fighting with non-goalies, the list goes on. The funniest was probably the time a goalie (Anthony Cosmo) made a save, then picked up the ball and while deciding which teammate to pass it to, didn’t notice the ball slowly roll out of his stick and bounce into the net. The guy who got credit for the goal was already sitting on the bench when it went in.

Given all that, it’s a little surprising that the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at a sporting event comes from the world of football.

I’m not a football guy. I don’t mind watching the odd CFL game on TV but I don’t really pay much attention to the league in general, and I never watch the NFL. But I’ve been to a couple of Argos games over the years and one Tiger-Cats game too. It was at an Argos game at Skydome a bunch of years ago that this particular event occurred.

It’s not a long story, so don’t blink.

The Argos were playing the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and at some point during the game I heard a chorus of male voices chanting “Here we go Riders, here we go! <clap> <clap> Here we go Riders, here we go! <clap> <clap>” I remember noticing not only because the Riders were the away team, but because I’m used to hearing that chant as “Let’s go <team>, let’s go” rather than “Here we go <team>, here we go”. I figured it was a Saskatchewan thing.


I looked around for the group of Roughrider fans that made the trip to Toronto, or perhaps a group of Saskatchewan ex-pats living in Toronto, but couldn’t find any. Then I realized what was happening.

It was a recording.

The sound was coming directly from the Roughrider bench. They were playing a recording of people chanting “Here we go Riders”, presumably to get their team pumped up.

I’m no pro athlete but I would imagine that playing in front of thousands of people cheering for you or your team can indeed get you pumped. But that’s because of the people themselves and their obvious passion and enthusiasm, not the sounds that they are making. Were the coaches or whoever trying to fool the players into believing they were in Regina and those sounds they heard we the rabid Roughies fans cheering them on? Did they honestly think that would work?

In which I admit to myself who I really am

It’s time for me to come clean and admit it. I’ve been fighting this for years, but it’s getting harder and harder to hide it and pretend that I’m something I’m not. I just can’t go on living this lie. The irony is that I’ve become that which I have been making fun of for years. I suppose the easiest way would be just to come out and say it.

I am a fair-weather fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Whew, I feel better already, just having gotten that off my chest.

I was never one to watch EVERY SINGLE Leafs game on TV, but I would watch as often as I could. I paid attention to where they were in the standings. I knew most of the players’ names, where they played, and how they were doing. If they made a trade, I at least had some clue whether it was a good one or a bad one. But none of these things are true anymore. I know they’re having a terrible season and have decided to begin the rebuilding process, but not much more than that. I hang my head in shame.

Way to go Dion! And, um, #42!I blame lacrosse. I started watching the National Lacrosse League in 2001 and have gotten deeper and deeper into it every year since. I started blogging about it in 2005, and have since written for three lacrosse blogs (including what are probably the two most popular indoor lacrosse blogs anywhere) and started my own. I wouldn’t call myself a lacrosse expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I am reasonably knowledgeable about the NLL teams and players. But paying that much attention to lacrosse has taken up all of my sports-related free time in the winter, and hasn’t left me much time for hockey. The rest of my free time is spent with my family and none of them are hockey fans. If I have to choose between watching the Leafs lose play and watching Elementary with my wife, well, the Leafs lose (pun intended). But if there’s a Rock game on, sorry honey.

It’s also easy to blame the fact that the team has been anywhere from not very good to terrible for the last decade.

I still pay some attention to the Leafs. Though I may not know all the players, I know Dion Kessel and Phil van Reimsdyk and such, the big names. And I have watched bits of games here and there, just not as much as, say, 10 years ago. But I know that if the Leafs were to go on some crazy winning streak, I’d be right back there, watching the games, talking about them on social media, and maybe even blogging about them.

Don’t get me wrong: I have been a Leafs fan all my life, and that will not change. When they win the Cup in 2021, I will watch every game of the playoffs and I’ll be as excited as everyone else. I know there are people who lose their passion and are all “I used to be a Leafs fan, but now I don’t care if they win or lose” and I can’t imagine saying that, especially if the team starts doing really well. I do still care, I just don’t have the time to pay as much attention as I used to. But given the way the team has been playing this season (so I hear) and the fact that they’re rebuilding, I imagine I’ve got several more years of suckage before they have a chance of really contending. And that’s assuming the rebuild is actually successful. So it seems unlikely that I’ll be watching much hockey until then but when they’re good again, boy, I’ll be right there. As long as the weather remains fair.

Not a word of a lie: There’s a Leafs game on right now, and I’m going to watch it.

Update: Watched it. They lost. Sigh.

TSN vs. Sportsnet

Old TSN Logo

TSN debuted in Canada in 1984, and I was immediately hooked. Suddenly we could see Blue Jays games on TV on more than just Wednesday nights and weekends, and Sportsdesk (later SportsCentre) showed highlights of the previous day’s games in just about every sport. Could TV get any better than that?

That’s all there was for sports TV in Canada for 14 years. In 1998, Sportsnet came along, and I basically thought of it as the poor man’s TSN. They did show NHL games, but I found the sports news / highlight show was less polished than the guys over at TSN. For years, Sportsnet remained, in my mind, a distant second to TSN in terms of quality. A year later, a third station, The Score, was created, but it was mostly highlights and a score ticker. They were a distant third.

Fast forward fifteen years. Despite the fact that I tend to watch more baseball than hockey and Sportsnet definitely shows more baseball, I still preferred TSN. If I’m looking for sports highlights, I still instinctively head to TSN. In my mind, they’re the seasoned veterans and these Sportsnet guys are just TSN wannabe’s.

But are they really? Let’s compare.

TV Radio Other
TSN_CanadasSportsLeader TSN
Habs regional
Jets regional
Sportsnet Sportsnet East
Sportsnet Ontario
Sportsnet West
Sportsnet Pacific
Sportsnet One
Sportsnet 360
Sportsnet World
Sportsnet Magazine

TSN has five radio stations while Sportsnet only has two. But until I began researching this article, I forgot that TSN Radio even existed. Meanwhile, I’ve listened to The Fan in Toronto for years. I’ve subscribed to Sportsnet Magazine since it debuted in 2011; TSN has no print media at all.

TSN rarely shows baseball anymore, while the majority of Blue Jays games are on one of the Sportsnet channels. TSN has more hockey, though not for much longer (but I’ll get to that later). TSN shows the CFL and the occasional NFL game, Sportsnet shows more NFL. TSN has basketball, Sportsnet doesn’t. Sportsnet has tennis, TSN has golf. TSN has the advantage of being partially owned by ESPN, so they sometimes simulcast (or rebroadcast) ESPN programming. TSN and TSN2 showed some lacrosse last year, though I know the Toronto Rock paid for their games to be shown. Sportsnet used to show the Rock home games until a few years ago, and last year they showed a couple of Calgary / Edmonton lacrosse games but I don’t know who paid for that.

Both stations have daily news / highlight shows. Sportsnet’s version might have lacked polish in the first year or two, but that’s long since been cleaned up. And of course, each one occasionally shows things like wrestling, and even dog shows and spelling bees.

For the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and the 2012 games in London, Bell Media (owners of TSN) and Rogers (owners of Sportsnet) teamed up to show as much of the games as possible. I have to admit it was pretty weird seeing TSN people talking about what was coming up on Sportsnet, and Sportsnet people telling you to go to TSN to watch a particular event. Both networks did an excellent job and it became clear at that point that Sportsnet was no longer “that other sports network”. If they were still second to TSN (and even that wasn’t clear), it wasn’t by much.

And now Rogers has signed a deal with the NHL for sole rights to broadcast games in Canada. TSN will still show a few and Hockey Night in Canada will still exist on CBC for at least a few years (though Rogers will produce it), but the vast majority of games will be on the Sportsnet channels, likely with multiple games on each night. What’s more, Rogers is a telecommunications company and so the NHL will be counting on them to bring the NHL to tablets and phones, and there will likely be some easy way to watch games live over the internet.

With this deal, Sportsnet has proven that they are major players in Canadian sports broadcasting, perhaps even supplanting the mighty TSN as top dog. I almost want to apologize to Sportsnet for not giving them enough credit over the last few years.

Help the Iroquois get back in the blue

I don’t write about lacrosse here very often anymore, since I have a separate lacrosse blog. But this is an important issue and, dear readers, your help is needed. I’ve posted this article there as well.

In 2010, the World Lacrosse Championships (field lacrosse) were held in England. A controversy erupted when the UK refused to allow the Iroquois Nationals team into the country. The Iroquois team is entirely separate from the Canadian and US teams and is one of the top teams in the world. The team uses passports issued by the sovereign Haudenosaunee nation*. Citizens of the Haudenosaunee consider themselves neither American nor Canadian, and have their own passports which, I believe, are accepted in Canada and the US and recognized by the UN.

* – Haudenosaunee is the native word for the Iroquois people, which consists of six Native American tribes (known as the “six nations”) banded together in New York and southern Ontario.

Iroquois players

Originally, the UK refused to grant visas to the players because there was no guarantee that the US would allow the players back into the country. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got personally involved and offered to grant US passports to everyone on the team but they were determined to travel using their own passports. Clinton then granted the team a waiver that effectively constituted the guarantee the UK was looking for, but they refused to change their minds. As a result, the team missed the entire tournament.

The tournament is held every four years, and the next one will be held in Denver in July of 2014. While travelling to the tournament will not be a problem this time around, the FIL (Federation of International Lacrosse) has decided that since the Iroquois did not compete in the last tournament, they will be seeded 30th. This puts them well out of the Blue division, which traditionally represents the top six teams from the previous tournament. Many lacrosse people, Iroquois and otherwise, are protesting this decision. There is only one reason why the Iroquois team was not in the top six, and that reason had nothing to do with lacrosse – it was entirely political. Punishing the team for decisions that were not only unfair but beyond their control only serves to legitimize the UK’s decision.

It’s not just the Iroquois team that would be affected by this decision. Lacrosse is hundreds of years old in North America, but it’s quite new in a number of countries that are participating for the first time. Consider the countries that are just good enough to make it to this competition (think the German or Latvian Olympic hockey teams in 2010) and then find out that they are in the same group as the Iroquois team. If your position in the next tournament depends on how you do in this one, do you want to be disadvantaged by having one of the strongest teams in the entire tournament in your division when they really should be a few levels up?

The game of lacrosse was invented by Native American people many hundreds of years ago in eastern North America. The Iroquois people are directly descended from those people – in a nutshell, this is their game. Should the Iroquois team automatically be put into the top division just because of that? Honestly, no. But it does earn them some respect from the lacrosse community. That in addition to their play in other competitions should earn them some flexibility on the part of the FIL.

The Iroquois have earned their place among the best lacrosse teams in the world. They should not be punished because of a purely political incident.

The Iroquois flag

An online petition has been created to attempt to convince the FIL to reverse this decision and allow the Iroquois team to play in the top division, where they belong. I am asking my readers to please sign this petition and help restore the Nationals’ rightful standing as one of the top lacrosse teams in the world.

Update: The FIL has voted and decided that the Iroquois will be in the Blue division in 2014. I don’t know whether or not the petition had anything to do with the decision, but it’s not unlikely that the outcry from the lacrosse community was a factor. Thanks to everyone who signed the petition!