Each week, during college football season DPB’s Kyle Magin and Andrew J. Pridgen pour on the prose with Pints and Picks™. Who to wager and (sometimes) what to drink while doing it. This week: #isthisheavennoitscentralmichigan
It’s been a strangely emotional week for me and I’ve had a tough time figuring out exactly why.
It started with an impromptu viewing of the third act of Field of Dreams on Saturday. I had just returned from attending my son’s first “major” sporting event (Cal Poly vs. Montana football) and had just put him down for his afternoon nap. It was still an hour before UCLA/Stanford kickoff, so I cruised around and eventually landed on CMT, which for whatever reason has rebranded itself as the station you can always find a clutch showing of Goonies, Footloose or Sweet Home Alabama.
So there he was, Kevin Costner Ray Kinsella bidding farewell to James Earl Jones’s Terence Mann (does his going into the corn field symbolize death or was Mann dead to begin with?) and Timothy Busfield’s annoying ginger financier brother-in-law who for whatever reason holds the note to Ray’s farm and instead of protecting his sister and her family is going to side with the fucking bank? Maybe he’s the one that should’ve choked on the hot dog… and Henry Hill’s Shoeless Joe who is still picking fights with Ty Cobb and steps away to reveal — Ray’s father (in a Yankee uniform of all things.)
So there we have in the final frames, a father and son “Having a catch” straight from Ray’s wildest fantasies. Maybe it was the mood I was in — kicking off my son’s introduction to an afternoon with his dad and all the parking, schlepping, ticket wrangling, food and drink gathering stuff that dads do behind the scenes that you never ever realize happen so you can basically be spirited to and from the game on a magic carpet — realizing that I’ll never have a chance to go to a game or have a catch with my dad again but also acknowledging every half day at work he took off and every evening he came home before dusk to go down to the high school fields with me and my buddies and showcase his smooth southpaw swing, that it just hit me.
At first I did that yawn thing where you’re pretending not to cry but wipe away a couple years; that soon turned into a ten-second flash flood on my face. Robin, fortunately, was outside working on a wreath to sell on Etsy.
Then, wouldn’t you know it, Jose Fernandez passed away on Sunday. Having just come off a good weekend cry, I was able to hold back…all the way till Monday evening, when I saw this take over my feed (or more accurately, give a much-needed respite from Hillary and Donald.)
Take it away Dee Gordon:
— MLB (@MLB) September 26, 2016
This, Kyle, is why baseball and baseball people trump everything. It is the only sport that can live up to the movies and vice-versa. Take every Rudy gross exaggeration, every Hoosiers resolution, every Talladega Nights final makeout session combined and not one real-life football, basketball…or car racing moment has lived up to the celluloid recollect.
Baseball lives up to the fantasy and then some. The Dee Gordon homerun, as all of baseball’s truly grand moments do, had me thinking that maybe there is a purpose, an invisible hand of fate and justice and good that guides us. That maybe something else is, in fact, out there and if we work hard, try hard, show some kindness and compassion that good things, miraculous things, really are possible in this gray world of throwing around shopworn cliches about what values are and how to fucking succeed.
Gordon’s home run wasn’t about winning or losing or even simply honoring a friend. Look how his head tilts toward the ground as he rounds first and has to bite his quaking bottom lip and give everything in his gut just to round the bases. At that moment, he is simply trying to do the right thing and hold it together for a buddy who left him, without warning or explanation, far far too soon.
In other words, it was all out of his hands to begin with.
So that’s where I kind of end up Kyle. No matter how much we think about it, we are not guaranteed a tomorrow. No matter how much we try to take advantage of today, many of them just slip away. But if there’s one thing, one game, one pastime that endures for us, that shows us maybe there is a little bit of that magic we felt when our dads took us — for the first time, or the final time — to see giants take the field. It is baseball. And maybe because it exists, and we just have to look for it a little, that’s the only thing.
…Ergo, I’m giving you some Wild Card final-weekend picks on the other side.
And you? How was your weekend on Tobacco Road?
Before we get onto my trip to Charlotte, know that I thought the same thing when I saw Dee Gordon’s home run, and, apparently, he did too:
“I ain’t never hit a ball that far, even in BP,” said Gordon, who finished with a season-high four hits. “I told the boys, ‘If you all don’t believe in God, you better start.’ For that to happen today, we had some help.”
As you alluded to, I visited Charlotte last weekend for a friend’s wedding. The wedding was to take place in Uptown—the city center where the protests turned into riots last week after the city’s police shot a black man under questionable circumstances. Upon touring the area Thursday night and Friday morning, he and his bride realized it would have been unwise to bring a gathering of well-dressed and possibly inebriated wedding guests into the heart of the protests, and they moved the venue to something safer outside of town. It was a lovely wedding, and all the more memorable because they had to come together with t-minus 36 hours and pull off an outstanding shindig.
After being in the city, though, I wouldn’t wish the sort of trouble Charlotte went through on my worst enemy—Tehran, Moscow, Pyongyang; nobody. The mood was tense—a midnight curfew was in effect which had a predictable effect on what should have been a weekend of merriment. The police presence was insane—seemed like there was one on every corner after the sun went down, and they were incredibly insistent on the curfew. Helicopters and humvees moved in late at night, with the accompanying noise and implied menace. A friend and I walked uptown to take in the scene one morning. Besides some boarded up windows and light graffiti, you couldn’t really tell anything was wrong, physically. Where you felt the full effect of the unrest was how empty it was. Here we were in the shopping and dining center of a major American city on a nice fall day and you could count the couples you passed on the street on one hand. News trucks outnumbered passenger cars. There was just nobody to be found in Charlotte during business hours. I can’t convey how eerie that is—especially to live in a society where commerce is as omnipresent as it is in 21st century America. Not to see someone selling something was disquieting. I spent my college years poking around Detroit, so I know empty, but this was absence without the accompanying decay to justify it. A friend who’s a local told me downtown Charlotte looks like the banks (Wells Fargo and B of A are both headquartered there) built it in the 80s and 90s. He’s largely right—it’s antiseptic, pretty and bland. But, it was built for people. To see it deserted was unsettling.
There’s no good way to transition off a thought like that, so I’ll let you do it, AJ, before we get to the Blue Jays jockeying for home field, the showdown between Western Michigan and Central Michigan in some sticky, hot #MACtion and the Wolverines and Badgers in maybe THE early-season gimmee bet.
I certainly agree with what you inferred about #dystopia and what it’s really going to look like: Lots of empty nondescript buildings where people used to go sit in front of monitors and in in between sending one another electronic directives that don’t matter from the very moment they were sent went ahead and gave themselves intermittent injections of serotonin by placing an image of something inside the image of a shopping cart on the same screen and having it sent, preferably by drone, to their home address where they will justify all the time they spent that day/week doing nothing the above by pulling said item from a box shipped from a magic place and they will hold it, preferably close to their chests and breathe in the smell of its newness.
When the wave of whatever is going to cause it to come crashing hits (either the Earth’s revolt or the inevitable man-made fuck up we seem to be trying so hard to bring about) the streets will be empty but the structures — at least for a bit — will remain. And it will look calm, peaceful even, just like you saw. The places folks used to sit in similar chairs and listen to Bon Iver while someone awake but not necessarily smiling drew a heart in latte foam upon their daily intake of hot liquid caffeine, will remain. And the ghosts of what we were will echo. Will this happen in this generation, maybe two or three more? I don’t know. I’m not sure. But a reset is inevitable. And all signs are pointing to sooner than later.
So let’s celebrate the glorious now drunkenly dancing and spinning the ledge of collapse with some baseball wagering, shall we?
Giants -130 vs. Dodgers (Friday, Sept. 30)
This is it. With the Giants expected to be in a three-way tie for a pair of Wild Card spots with a single three-game fan appreciation weekend at AT&T to close out the 2016 season of high highs and low lows, the only question remains, can they deliver? And does LA give a shit? The answer — to both — is yes. While the GIants have spent the ‘10s building the closest thing to a baseball dynasty, the Dodgers have been mired in bankruptcy, endless litigation, insane payroll commitments and have, finally it seems, landed on a pretty good team formula filled with equal parts promising home-grown prospects, aging superstars and the best pitcher to don a Trolley Dodger jersey since Koufax (apologies to Fernando and Hershiser.) But Dodger manager Dave Roberts, a former journeyman outfielder/Giant, knows a lot about late-season baseball momentum and what a few games “off” at season’s end can do to chillax a ballclub on the cusp vs. those who go into the Wild Card game with a locomotive full of energy and ambition. Personally, the stakes are SO high for the Wild Card that I give any winner the edge when going into the LDS. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
On Friday, Giants ace Madison Bumgarner will take the hill. During Bum’s last start against the Padres he didn’t look so hot, allowing five earned runs, including three homers. Don’t expect that to happen on the cusp of October. He takes on Rich Hill, the best acquisition from the A’s ever 2016 vintage, who is still battling blisters more than your dad on a hike. Hill will come out with some serious dress rehearsal game face, as he is the predictive starter for Game 2 of the NLDS and this is his first-ever post-season warmup. In this case, it’s do-or-die for Bumgarner and the Giants so look for a Friday win and short rest of #madbum who is already penciled in as the starter for the Wild Card game.
New York Mets -150 @ Philadelphia Phillies (Friday, Sept. 30)
The Mets’ Robert Gsellman is the anchor leg of a four-man rotation the Mets have been using down this blistering stretch run. He or Seth Lugo may well get the Wild Card start should Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon (scheduled to close out the weekend) not be ready to go for the — though I’m sure Colon is likely to come off the bench to pinch hit if he doesn’t take the mound. Second-half call up Alec Asher gives the city of Brotherly Love something to hang their hopes on for 2017 and beyond as he refused to allow more than two earned runs during his first four MLB starts. His fifth start last saturday against the Mets, however, was the game the rookie’s glass slipper may have cracked. He went just five innings and allowed four unearned runs. Not horrible but may be an indicator that Asher is ready to put his arm on ice till February, and the Phillies front office may agree. The Mets bats wake up in Philly especially as they get into the bullpen early (4th or 5th) and win by three.
Phew. OK Kyle, baseball made me feel a little better in spite of the I Am Legend tone of it all. What say you about college football?
I say that baseball is buzzing on my mind right now; college football has a playoff-every-week quality, don’t get me wrong, but we’re upon baseball’s reckoning right now. You cannot understate the excitement in five cities–Toronto, Baltimore, Detroit, San Francisco and St. Louis. I’ll say it for the 20th time on this blog–baseball’s second wild card is the greatest thing to happen to the sport since the ‘98 home run chase, and it happens every year now. So, without further ado, Let’s break down the lines:
Detroit Tigers @ Atlanta Braves OVER 9 Runs (Friday, Sept. 30)
Both teams come into Friday’s matchup on a relative tear–the Tigers have averaged a little better than 7 runs over their last six games, and the Bravos did better than 6. Atlanta is playing with that weird swagger teams adopt when they have nothing to play for and an expanded roster to play with. The Tigers are about to go on what could be an insane 7 days: three in Atlanta through Sunday, then, if they are within a half game of the Baltimore Orioles by Sunday evening, a trip back to Detroit on Monday to make up Thursday’s rainout against the Indians, before traveling to Baltimore for the wild card play-in game on Tuesday, and then the wild card game in Toronto on Wednesday before starting the first round of the playoffs in either Texas or Boston. That’s to say I wouldn’t especially want to be Braves’ Friday starter Matt Wisler, in his second start back from AAA after getting recalled to the big squad when rosters expanded in September. Wisler has a 5.63 ERA in that time and has struggled to get guys out. Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera is feeling the moment and raking right now, and he was recently re-joined by Nick Castellanos in the lineup on Wednesday–the Tigers’ 3B smashed a key double in the late-innings of a win over the Indians. The Tigers’ Daniel Norris doesn’t get great defense behind him–he has a .333 BABIP during his starts. I guess that home plate gets crossed plenty in the first game of the last series at Turner Field.
Toronto +135 @ Boston (Friday, Sept. 30)
Toronto needs to find a rhythm if the worst-case (for them) scenario plays out and they’re asked to play Detroit or Baltimore on Wednesday after two days off. If the single-elimination wildcard game has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t want to be Pittsburgh 2014 or 2015, and run into a buzzsaw pitcher (Bumgarner and Arrietta, respectively, ended the Buckos’ runs) without being able to tame the opposition’s bats. Your ‘pen needs to be stretched out for that to work, and the time is now to do it in high-pressure games in Fenway. Boston doesn’t have much to play for, but you can bet its working-class fans, who are staring down the barrel of playoff ticket prices, will show out this weekend to watch the Sawx. I think Toronto focuses and plays a little station-to-station ball to eke out a win against a team that’s fat and happy and in need of rest after clinching.
Western Michigan @ Central Michigan +4
Forget good #MACtion, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, might be one of the best venues for good college football this weekend, period. That flat, miserable dump is hosting the 3-1 Chippewas as they take on the 4-0 Broncos in one of the most hyped Central-Western matchups in recent memory. To recap, Central connected on blows against Oklahoma State and fellow comer UNLV before dropping a close matchup last weekend in Charlottesville to Virginia. Western Michigan has been to both of the B1G’s Illinois schools for wins on their way to a perfect record. Western is the darling in this matchup–WR Corey Davis is enjoying a darkhorse Heisman campaign, and Head Coach PJ Fleck is auditioning for America’s next big coaching job. Central is the gritty Cinderella, knocking off Oklahoma State on a crazy prayer in week 2. Central strangles its foes out: opponents convert just 21 percent of their third downs and give up 2.5 sacks per game. Western can’t boast numbers like that, but the Broncos bend and don’t break–opponents have been inside the red zone 8 times opposed to 19 for the #RTB crew. Western has 18 red zone scores this year to Central’s 10. WMU rips your heart out. The atmosphere will be raucous at Kelly-Shorts Stadium on Saturday for the 4 p.m. tilt–just enough time for both fanbases to drive out to that cornfield of a campus and drain gallons upon gallons of Natty Ice and the Beast. I think Central puts the screws to Davis and QB Zach Terrell to keep it within 4.
Wisconsin +10.5 @ Michigan
Michigan is loaded for bear this season, but Badger is a different story. Wisconsin has gone through the ringer with top-10 contests at Lambeau against LSU and in East Lansing vs. Michigan State in the #borderwar. Michigan, for all its might, has squared off against every opponent they’ve faced at home with unranked Colorado being their toughest matchup. Wisconsin has seen speed and strength and dealt with both by unleashing an offense that dominates time of possession 37 minutes to 22. What will Michigan–which has won by a combined 208-55–do when it bumps up against consecutive three-and-outs or comes out of the red zone with just three points to show for itself? We don’t know yet, and until we do, this is a ludicrously large spread to put your faith in.
Alright AJ. Baseball is burning the barn down and college football has all the hallmarks of the toe-to-toe rounds of a heavyweight brawl this weekend. I guess socializing and getting outside are going to have to wait at least one more weekend.
I mean, the nature of Pints and Picks is sort of the 3,000-word equivalent of a mancave on your phone, is it not? (<– Also, I’m pretty sure someone is now going to try to design MnCVE or some bullshit like that, maybe an app with an algorithm that locates other dudes drinking beer in dark recesses of their homes in your neighborhood? We’re going to DISRUPT the hanging out alone and watching games corollary; we are, after all, just pack animals with devices.)
OK, there is puh-lenty (see: above…and below) of Friday action to be had at the window so let’s get to it.
Stanford +3 @ Washington
Stanford looked like they left their mojo at Jumbo’s Clown Room last Saturday, that is until the final 70 seconds when they decided to score 13 (and cover) leaving Josh Rosen scratching his head as he checked his phone to see whether he’s still top three of Kiper’s Big Board — even with the mustache. He’s not 🙁 …But it’s up to the Emerald City for the battle of the undefeateds of the PAC-12 North this week. Chris Peterson’s Washington Huskies are getting all the love just as Chris Petersen’s Boise State Broncos did a half decade ago.
It has been more than a decade (after starting 3-1 in 2003, U-Dub would go on to lose 52 of its next 67) since the Huskies have been in the conversation. They’re now 4-0 and are the league’s current CEOs of swagger. With a top-five defense in the country and a vine-ripened offense, this looks to be a breakout year and, indeed, with a seemingly forgiving schedule most of the rest of the way, the Huskies will be in the National Championship conversation week six if they can do what they’re supposed to at home.
Stanford quarterback Ryan Burns, after looking like he wouldn’t be able to NOT complete a pass this season over his first three games, came back down, hard at times, to the turf last week in Arroyo Seco. In fact, Stanford’s O-line is allowing Burns to be sacked almost 10 percent of the time during regular downs. A Huskies’ pass rush led by Vita Vea (whose name sounds like a Coldplay song), Joe Mathis and Elijah Qualls, should result in a lot of help ups and small dumps to Christian McCaffrey; so Stanford’s success, even more so than normal, is predicated on no. 5’s ability to create in the flat.
Peterson’s Huskies offense is still too reliant on the long ball and that could run them into trouble when they come against a top-ranked secondary, which Stanford has. Washington is also having problems in short yardage rushing downs and Stanford’s D Line anchored by Solomon Thomas and Harrison Phillips will make the evening a long one for the Huskies’ sophomore QB Jake Browning. Take Stanford, the points and the (just barely) over 47.
Final Prediction: Stanford 28, Washington 23
Utah +1 @ Cal
Cal’s (2-2) loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils (4-0) last week was telltale for this season and sort of a signature Sonny Dykes game. The Bears went into the locker room at the half with a commanding 24-10 lead, but Arizona State put up 31 points in the fourth quarter, 17 unanswered, to take down Cal 51-41. It’s tough to say how good ASU is and we’ll probably find out a little bit more about the undefeated squad as they take on 1-3 USC Saturday evening. (Btw USC is 6 point favorites, take ASU and the points because Clay Helton.)
…While Cal QB Davis Webb and receiver Chad Hansen have eased the departure of Jared Goff for Bear Backers, the pair seems to be the only thing special about the offense. On top of this, Cal is currently ranked 117th in the nation in total defense giving up 491.8 yards per game. Doesn’t matter how many Nobel Laureates a school can have, that’s an insurmountable number.
On the other hand, Kyle Whittingham’s Utah Utes come to Memorial Stadium ranked No. 18 and undefeated at 4-0. Utah’s early success is thanks in large part to its defense, led by sophomore linebacker Cody Barton who is playing every down angry. That big red D is thus far ranked no. 24. Utes’ playcaller Troy Williams threw for 270 yards, two touchdowns and zero INTs vs. USC last week and running back Troy McCormick — who doesn’t have the home run hitting ability of his predecessor Devontae Booker — can also catch out of the backfield. Cal cannot defend the screen and for that reason alone, the Utes will win by double digits.
Final Prediction: Utah 33, Cal 21
Final Prediction: Arizona State 41, USC 28
Last Week: 1 for 1
Overall: 7 and 6
Detroit Tigers @ Atlanta Braves OVER 9 Runs (FRIDAY)
Toronto +135 @ Boston (FRIDAY)
Western Michigan @ Central Michigan +4
Wisconsin +10.5 @ Michigan
Last Week: 6 for 6
Overall: 12 for 17
Giants -130 vs. Dodgers (FRIDAY)
New York Mets -150 @ Philadelphia Phillies (FRIDAY)
Stanford +3 @ Washington (FRIDAY)
Stanford @ Washington over 47 (FRIDAY)
Utah +1 @ Cal
Arizona State +6 @ USC
Image: Universal Pictures