Thursday, June 29, 2006

Losing sucks, but its a part of the game

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
-Vince Lombardi

Losing sucks.

Websters says that to lose is to “fail to win.” That’s poetic isn’t it? Losing is failure.

Adam Morrison, was drafted by the Charlotte Bobcats with the third pick in the first round in yesterday’s NBA draft. He has this great commercial out right now for EA Sports talking about how he cried when Gonzaga was eliminated by (my) UCLA Bruins in this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. In that commercial he takes full ownership of his emotional outburst at the end of that game. “yeah I cried! I cried on National television. So what? Failure hurts,” Morrison extols. He goes on to say that he hopes he never loses that intensity (click here to see that commercial).

Failure hurts.

The reality is however, that of the 65 teams involved in March Madness every year, 64 of them will end their season with a loss. The Florida Gators were the only Tourney team that ended their season with a winning streak.

As much as losing sucks, as much as failure hurts, the truth of the matter is that losing and failure are at least as common as winning (if not more so).

The Pittsburgh Pirates had lost 13 games in a row going into today’s match against the World Series Champion Chicago White Sox. Not surprisingly, the Pirates have the worst record in the National League. When they played the team with worst record in ALL of baseball, the Kansas City Royals, they were swept in a three-game series by those Royals.

So a funny thing happens today. The Pirates take a 6-4 lead into the eight inning against the Chisox. Jim Thome hits a two-run home run (his 25th) for the Sox in the eighth to tie the game. This was a MONSTROUS blast. The ball bounced into the Allegheny River for crying out loud! That sinking feeling must have set into the pit of the stomach of every one of the 21,380 Pittsburgh fans at PNC Park at that point.

Let the downward spiral begin.

The Sox then get two men on in the top of the ninth inning. We all know how this is going to end right? WRONG. Mike Gonzalez pitches his way out of the jam by striking out former Pirate Rob Mackowiak to end the inning for the Sox.

Freddy Sanchez plays third base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s having a break-out year for the Bucs this year, hitting .354 with four home runs and 23 doubles. Sanchez may be the best young third basement that most people (outside of Pittsburgh) have never heard of. So Freddy comes up for his fifth at bat of the day. Already had three hits in his first four plate appearances. What to do for an encore? Sanchez sends an 0-1 pitch into the first row of the left-field seats to end the Pirates 13-game losing streak.

Nobody loses all the time.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers did their best to dispel this truism in 1976 when they were an expansion franchise…lost all 14 games in their initial campaign. 1977? Didn’t start out much better. Those Bucs lost the first 12 games of that season before the skies parted and heaven shone down on Tampa Bay. In week 13 of the 1977 season, the Buccaneers won their first game in team history by trashing the New Orleans Saints 33-14. Bye, bye 26-game losing streak. The next week, the Bucs won their home finale by beating the St Louis Cardinals. Two years later, the Bucs were in the NFC Championship Game.

So what is to be learned here? I have five kids who have all participated in sports. My youngest son’s flag football team just finished a perfect season (they lost all of their games). This was not my son’s fault. When a team loses, it is not the fault of any one individual. That’s the thing about team competition. You win as a team and you lose a team.

It’s been said that you learn more from failure than you do from success. Out of adversity comes perseverance.

Today, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a proud organization with penchant for winning. They are just four years removed from winning their first Super Bowl.

The Pittsburgh Pirates live in the shadow of this years’ Super Bowl Champions, the Steelers. The Pirates however have won 5 World Series titles themselves. True, it has been 27 years since the last one, and their chances don’t look too good this year.

But losing, while it may seem never-ending and cuts like a knife, doesn’t last forever. Ask last years White Sox who won their first World Series title in 88 years. The year before that? The Boston Red Sox won their first World Series title in 86 years.

Losing is a part of the game. Failure is a part of life. I hope that my children have learned to win with grace and lose with dignity. If you have Adam Morrison’s intensity, losing is going to hurt…BAD! But if you want to win as much as Adam Morrison, you’re going to probably win more than you lose in life. He came up short in March, but won big yesterday. Last years number three pick in the NBA draft (Utah’s Deron Williams) signed a contract worth over $16 million. Morrison will no doubt command more. He already has a healthy endorsement deal with EA sports.

So if you are the Pittsburgh Pirates and you lose 13 in a row, you still go out to play that 14th game in hopes that on that day…on that 14th day, you can beat the World Champs. If you are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and you lose 26 games in a row at your franchise’s inception…you STILL go out to play that 27th game.

Here’s to losing and to failure. Its sucks. It hurts, But losing and failure, make winning all the more special..

Here’s to you Freddy Sanchez.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Thirty four years ago today...

Thirty-four years ago today, I fell in love for the first time.

I was only nine years old, but I knew it was a love that would last a lifetime. It took a lot of coaxing and cajoling, but on June 26th, 1972, my Dad took me to my first Dodger game.

I’m not quite sure how I came to be a Dodger fan. My Dad and older brother were both die-hard Angel fans. Somehow, I discovered my love for the Dodgers on my own. Vin Scully had a lot to do with that. I would spend countless hours in my parents bedroom (where they had the only radio in the house) listening to Scully call games.

My infatuation with the game of baseball began with the 1971 Fall Classic. I remember Roberto Clemente winning the Series MVP for the Pittsburgh Pirates and getting a hit in all seven games of that Series. For the better part of that winter, I begged my Dad to take me to Dodger Stadium the following year.

My Dad is a good man. He worked hard for our family of six in East Los Angeles. Resources were limited, and spending money to attend sporting events was not something that we had ever done. My skills of persuasion must have been evident even at that early age though. On my 9th birthday, May 7th 1972, Mom and Dad gave me the one thing that I wanted in the world…tickets to a Dodger game.

At long last, I was headed to the show! Due to limited resources, Mom and Dad could only afford two tickets, so Dad and I went to the game by ourselves. We had tickets on the 3rd base side (where the Dodger dugout is) on the Loge level. I’ll never forget it.

It was an unusually cool June Monday evening. The Big Red Machine was in town. Claude Osteen started for the Dodgers. The very first Major League player that I ever saw bat live? Pete Rose. He singled of course (went 2-5 that night). In an instant I learned to boo and hate Pete Rose and his cereal bowl haircut. Fortunately, Joe Morgan grounded into 3-6 double play right after that (thanks

It was all downhill from there.

The Reds went on to score a run in the second, another in the third and then erupted for three in the fourth. By that point, my Dad had seen about all he needed to see. But I refused to leave. These were now MY Dodgers. Willie Davis patrolled Center Field that night with Manny Mota in Left and Willie Crawford in Right. Steve Garvey played the hot corner with Bill Russell at Short. Bobby Valentine manned Second and Bill Buckner gave Wes Parker a breather at First.

The Big Red Machine? They were on their way to their second National League pennant in three years. In addition to Rose and Morgan, I saw Johnny Bench don the tools of ignorance and Tony Perez cover First. George Foster played in Right Field and Davey Concepcion took the collar (0-5) at Short.

All Dad cared about was that he had spent all this money on tickets to see the Dodgers and they didn’t even have the decency to win. On that cool June evening, the words to “Take me out to the ballgame” became reality for me (“I don’t care if I NEVER get back”). I was in love. Our Lady of Chavez Ravine had her grip on my heart and I willingly surrendered.

Over the years my love was refined. Originally I was all about offense. When the Dodgers played on TV (which wasn’t very often in those days) I would watch the Dodgers bat and then go outside and play for 10 minutes. I would then come back inside to watch the boys in blue take their hacks again.

In 1981, Fernando Valenzuela changed all that.

Fernandomania took Los Angeles by storm and captured my hearts imagination as well. Until that point, I had never had any sense of appreciation for pitching. When Fernando lit the National League on fire in 1981, my senses were awakened to a whole other side of the game. It was as if my love had multiplied. I felt like Timothy Busfield in “Field of Dreams” when he finally saw the players on the field…“hey when did pitching start to be a part of the game?”

My love for the game grew further when I was introduced to Rotisserie (fantasy) Baseball in 1988. While my heart will always primarily belong to the Dodgers, I now was a National League snob and grew to appreciate other teams and players as well.

This past Father’s Day, my own kids surprised me with tickets to a Dodger game (damn I love them kids). Our Executive Editor Nick Athan was in town that week and so he went with us to that game. At the game, my oldest daughter Rebekah turned to Nick and said “hey Nick…SMILE, you’re at the happiest place on earth!” Nick quickly replied, “I thought that was Disneyland?” to which Rebekah answered “nah, that’s so second grade (Rebekah just graduated from High School a week earlier), THIS is the happiest place on Earth.”

As those words rolled off her tongue my eyes welled up. I got a lump in my throat just now as I recalled the moment. The circle of life was complete. My Dad had enabled my love for the game of baseball to grow thirty-four years ago today. Now, my own kids had developed their own flame for the game.

Over the years, I have developed an affinity for everything from the NFL to March Madness. Just last year I fell in love with NASCAR upon going to my first race in Phoenix. Boy did I ever fall HARD for NASCAR, it is has now supplanted my love for all other sports.

But baseball is my first love. My love of a lifetime.

Thirty-four years ago today, I fell in love for the first time.

Thanks Dad.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A year in the life

One year ago today, on June 20, 2005, I boarded Northwest Airline flight # 1032 to Minneapolis (en route to Cleveland). Having been a road warrior for the previous three years, my pre-flight routine was well established. After traversing the litany of check-in and security lines at the Ontario International Airport, my final stop was always the newsstand to pick up a copy of the LA Times and the USA Today.

Any road warrior knows that there are a lot of long hours that are spent in a crammed seat at 30,000 feet. Digging into the sports sections of the local paper and the USA Today help pass a few of those hours. The LA Times Sport section always came first. Had to read about my struggling Dodgers (who at the time has just been swept by the lowly Kansas City Royals and then the Chicago White Sox). The Times coverage was about the most in-depth coverage available on the Dodgers on a daily basis. It pales in comparison to the way that other papers around the country cover their respective home team (I love the way the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel covers the Brewers).

As an avid fantasy (5x5 roto) baseball player, I then needed to catch up on the rest of the National League and the American League West action. For that, I turned to the USA Today. While their coverage is marginal, it was the only game in town as far as catching up on the previous days sports action across the nation.

I quickly dispensed with the Times sports section and then in turn that of the USA Today. Took me about an hour. My flight must have been somewhere over Utah when I started longing for the old “National Sports Daily” which had ceased publishing fourteen years earlier. The “National” was so far ahead of its time in the way that it covered daily sporting events. They had full stories on every game, every day (as opposed to the “summary” paragraphs that are common in both the USA Today and your local daily) as well as expanded box scores and even scorecards for local baseball games.

I sat there at 30,000 feet and pined for an out-of-circulation periodical the way that a 14 year-old longs to see the object of their affection after Summer vacation. With apologies to 50 Cent, I loved “The National” the way “a fat kid love cake.”

That’s when inspiration struck.

Why not do something about it? What if I could replace the National with a newer, richer sports daily that could be produced via a PDF? I grabbed the 3x5 notepad that I carried with me when I traveled and began to write down ideas. At that point ideas began to flow through me like a river running down stream.

I initially envisioned having a four page (8.5 x 11) spread for every game. That idea has pretty much grown to about twelve pages for each game. I envisioned rudimentary graphics that have since developed into professionally designed, kick-ass layouts (thanks Ryan).

A funny thing happens when you come up with an interesting idea. You start looking at it and you begin to get tunnel vision. The idea begins to grow on you, and you wonder, “if this is such a great idea…why hasn’t anyone already thought to do this?”

I began talking to everyone I knew partly looking for validation, partly looking for someone to give me valid reason why my idea wouldn’t work. One by one, something amazing began to happen…people got excited.

One friend wanted to know immediately if I was looking for investors. At the time, I hadn’t even considered how to structure any kind of investment opportunities. Ultimately, that friend helped co-found XXL NATIONAL and contributed $10,000.

I had lunch with another friend who I knew was a smart guy, he had an MBA from Pepperdine for cryin’ out loud. After telling him about the XXL idea, he informed me that he was about to complete 20 years of employment with an aerospace company. He let me know that he was free to leave anytime after that to help with the XXL dream. That guy is now our CFO.

I told the XXL story to friends at a pizza joint in Pomona, CA and at the Lobster festival in Maine. I shared the story with buddies of mine while watching a Brewers game at Miller Park in Milwaukee,WI and in a friends swimming pool in Corona, CA. The XXL story was told at a Coco’s restaurant in Carson, CA and at a sushi restaurant in Tampa, FL.

I met with one friend of mine who I have known for 30 years who is the CIO for a multi-million dollar company to tell him about my crazy idea for a sports publication. He stopped me after about 20 minutes and said, “You don’t have a sports company here, what you have is an internet technology company. Now am I the right person to help you take your ‘idea’ and make it practical, working company? Yeah, I think so.” That person helped put our upcoming website together and is a co-founder of our company.

Everywhere I turned, the XXL family got bigger and the dream picked up steam. A friend of mine in Fayetteville, AR called me and told me that I HAD TO meet a friend of his in Kansas City. After a 90-minute conference call, I boarded a plane and flew to meet this new friend. We ended up having a lunch that went so long, that the waiter offered us dinner menus after we had been there for five hours. That KC friend is now our Executive Editor.

On January 31st (the 16th anniversary of the launch of the old "National Sports Daily") we began putting together preview editions of XXL NATIONAL so that we could work out the look and feel of the publication. In the meantime we also began to look for investors who could help us take our preview to launch.

We met with investors in Tampa and West Palm Beach as well as in Las Vegas. Our journey took us to investment companies from West LA to San Diego and a few points in between. All the while we have had a handful of faithful partners who have helped propel the XXL NATIONAL Sports Daily dream forward.

So here we are, one year later June 20, 2006. I have learned a few things over this past year.

First, it doesn’t matter who promises what to you, you can only rely on what you have in the bank. I have also learned that there is wisdom in surrounding yourself with people whose strengths are your weaknesses. A team can do things much quicker (and usually do a better job) than one person alone.

Finally I have learned that when a team of talented, passionate people enroll themselves in a vision, there is no stopping them. When someone grows weary, you always have someone else ready to tag and assume the load.

We have a great team here with XXL NATIONAL. We have been through the proverbial ringer over this past year. There have been highlights and heartbreak. Throughout it all, there is our love for the game. Some of us are diehard baseball fans, some think that the NFL should be played year-round. Some have a serious basketball Jones, others are NASCAR motorheads. Hell we even have NHL fanatics in our fold.

We love the game. That’s why we are here for the long haul. We are looking to officially launch in early July. Keep an eye on us. XXL NATIONAL Sports Daily is on the verge of doing something memorable for sports fans just like us.


Monday, June 19, 2006

Nothing could be finer...

Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina, right? Well I suppose that could be said Monday night. The Duke LaCrosse scandal has been a black eye on “The Triangle.” You’re familiar with “The Triangle” aren’t ya? Its that area in North Carolina which is anchored by Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. It is NCAA Basketball Mecca, home to the NC State Wolfpack, Duke Blue Devils and UNC Tar Heels.

Monday night though, was all about hockey, eh? The Carolina’s Hurricanes won their first ever Stanley Cup in Raleigh tonight by defeating the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 in the seventh game of the series. Ya gotta hand it to the Oilers though. They lost their starting goalie Dwayne Roloson in game 1. Roloson had been the key to the Oilers improbable run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After Game 1, hockey pundits everywhere were declaring the series OVER.

Ya can’t spell spoilers without Oilers though.

After dropping the first two games of the series, the Oilers came back to win three of the next four to force a Game 7. It was only the fourteenth Game 7 in the history of the Stanley Cup Finals. Alas, the Hurricanes were a force not to be denied. Even a disputed non-goal (replays later showed that the Refs got the call wrong and Carolina should have been credited with another goal) could not steer these Hurricanes off track.

It was truly a memorable series.

That is, for anyone who actually saw it. The NHL came back strong this year (after a year off due to a labor stoppage), unfortunately, the only cable channel that was interested in paying substantive dollars to televise the NHL was OLN (Outdoor Life Network). The first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals drew abysmal ratings.

Game 1 was witnessed by 610,836 households in the United States. Game 2 sucked in 5,000 fewer. SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND viewers for a championship series here in the United States? The NHL has had a presence in the US since 1924. That’s over 80 years!

More people watched a women’s college softball game than Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

More people watched a rained-out baseball game on ESPN that never started than Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Game 3 of Lord Stanley’s Cup was moved to NBC and that was outdrawn here in the Los Angeles market by reruns of “I Love Lucy!”

OK, stay with me here. I LOVE the NHL. If you have ever been to a hockey game live with seats in the lower bowl of an arena, you will be hard-pressed to see a more exciting sporting event. But Gary Bettman (he's the Commissioner of the NHL for you who are uninitiated), the NHL has a problem.

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it…does it make a sound?

Granted, the horrific ratings may have had something to do with the small markets involved (Raleigh, NC and Edmonton, Alberta Canada), but they also had a lot to do with OLN. Outdoor Life Network may be available in 70 million households nationwide (thanks to DirecTV) but apparently no one knows what channel OLN is on. Do you? Quick, blurt out the channel number for OLN on your cable/satellite package. If you are a DirecTV customer, you can find OLN on 608 (I admit, I had to look it up on the online guide myself).

So my heartfelt congratulations go out to the Carolina Hurricanes on their victory. You readers get bonus points if you can name TWO players on the team without looking. I’ll give you extra bonus points if you know how long the Hurricanes have been in existence and know their origin (here’s a hint, they weren’t an expansion franchise, they moved from another state).

Ah hell, with the less than tepid interest that the NHL has enjoyed on television this year, I suppose I should give you bonus points for even having read this far into the article.



Is there anyone still reading????

Oh well, maybe next year the NHL (and OLN) will look to build a strategic alliance with a daily sports periodical that covers the NHL like no other daily publication in the US. That would be most eXXceLlent