Draft Day: Who Let the Dawgs Out?

Movie poster from the 2014 films "Draft Day".Last night a friend — also of Buckeye origin — and I went to an early showing of Draft Day, a completely fictionalized account of the National Football League’s player draft process for the woeful Cleveland Browns. Fair warning, read further and I will spoil this movie for you.

Or will I? It’s not that great, so there’s not much to spoil.

Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the Browns’ GM. His late father was the coach at one time, until Sonny fired him. (Hiss!)

Sonny’s goals on draft day are to salvage football in Cleveland, and resurrect his professional reputation. He would prefer to choose tackle Vontae Mack based on family values — Mack needs a big contract to support his two orphaned nephews! — and gut-feel, but the team’s owner pushes Sonny toward a draft-pick trade that will “make a splash”.

Here’s why I can’t possibly spoil Draft Day for you with this blog post: It’s clear from the moment Sonny accepts a really terrible deal, giving up three consecutive first-round picks to Seattle for a quarterback he has apparently never even done due diligence on, and isn’t sure the team needs, that:

  • The deal will go south, quickly
  • The head coach, played by Denis Leary, won’t like it
  • The QB Sonny is expected to draft will be an arrogant jerk, possibly with something unsavory in his past to disqualify him
  • Sonny will throw a Hail Mary of sorts, once the Browns are on the draft clock, that will incense the team’s owner — but ultimately leave the team better off than if the bonehead trade had never happened

Jennifer Garner, who I normally appreciate in just about any role, plays Ali, the team’s number cruncher as well as Sonny’s secret girlfriend. When she breaks the news on draft day that he’s going to be a father, she is shocked — SHOCKED — and hurt that he is a little preoccupied.

Ali is supposedly a lawyer, salary-cap-analyst extraordinaire and self-taught football wonk — all while teetering on four-inch heels — but she’s not smart enough to wait for a more opportune moment to share this joyous news? Like the day AFTER draft day?

Jennifer Garner and Kevin Costner, in a promotional still from Draft Day.I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an on-screen couple with less chemistry than Costner and Garner. For starters, I don’t think he touches her — not even a peck on the cheek — until the final scene. Ali exists just so that Sonny can pull her into the supply closet several times a day to talk about either his draft troubles, or his ambivalence about fatherhood. She reacts with an empathetic (or is it patronizing?) look and pursed lips, but no meaningful dialogue.

Also, any time she’s asked if a proposed draft choice will put the team over the salary cap, Ali does some mental math (out loud), and concludes, “we’ll look at it, but I think it could work”. So then, why do teams always make this salary cap stuff seem so difficult? It is obviously simple and straightforward. What a bunch of drama queens…

I cannot explain Ellen Burstyn as Sonny’s mom, who arrives straight from the reading of her husband’s will — just one hour prior to the draft — to scatter his ashes on the Browns’ practice field. Even Ali has better timing!

It is also not clear why she brings along a pouting Rosanna Arquette, Sonny’s ex-wife. Huh? How many ex-wives are invited to the reading of a former in-law’s will, especially when there are no children involved, as well as to the scattering of the ashes? Arquette’s is not even a speaking part, just a scowling part. (Somebody needs a new agent.)

I’ve never been to a team’s green room on draft day, but I have a hunch Sonny’s last-minute heroics are the least realistic thing in this film. It’s behavior that makes those of us in the corporate environment roll our eyes. He’s got a team load of hard-working scouts, number crunchers, coaches and trainers to collaborate with — but he decides to shoot from the hip, and fly completely solo. They’ve presumably spent months and months developing reports on the players, but Sonny goes with his gut — and since it’s Hollywood, not Cleveland, everyone lives happily ever after.

OK, I realize I have essentially thrown rotten tomatoes at Draft Day, but there’s a caveat. The movie was completely worth $11, because I grew up outside Cleveland. After attending church on Sundays, my family hurried home to worship the Cleveland Browns. My friend Jennifer and I laughed loudly at the local bar scenes, showing screaming fans wearing their jerseys and Dawg Pound face paint. Heck, I’d have paid even more to see that in 3-D.

I know it’s just a movie, but I feel excited about the Browns’ prospects this season. Watching Draft Day, I was reminded of my annual visits home. No matter where I go on weekends, I encounter long-suffering fans wearing brown and orange — regardless of the team’s abysmal record. The city is not nicknamed “Believeland” for nothing.

I hope to hang on to this warm, optimistic, nostalgic feeling — at least until the first snap of 2014.

Cleveland Browns fans in the Dawg Pound

Blurred Lines

Boy holds Cleveland Indians baseball with Chief Wahoo logo. Cactus League, Scottsdale Arizona. March 16, 2014

Cactus League, Scottsdale Arizona. March 16, 2014

I recently blogged about Color Splash, a mobile app that allows users to wipe out color in a digital photograph, then add it back to specific sections for visual impact.  I had a blast with it, and expect to use if often now that I have the hang of it.

This weekend I tested another app: Big Lens. With a few swipes of a fingertip, it blurs or refines focus in digital images, creating the illusion of shallow depth of field.

I take a good portion of my photographs at the ballpark, with a long lens, so my aperture setting is often low to begin with.  Still, I was able to dig out a few exceptions and apply the Big Lens treatment. I got interesting results that are a bit more subtle than from Color Splash.

Big Lens also offers the ability to add focus light points in shapes like hearts and stars (Bokeh effect) to blurred sections. I only tried it in one photo here. Can you spot it?  Hint, I chose star shapes, but considered using hearts…

The biggest challenge with both apps is my lack of finger dexterity and precision. It’s difficult to stay within the borders of sections I’m highlighting — especially anything thin, like the brim of a ball cap.

If you are a Big Lens user, have you found a solution?

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Under the Skin: Miss Scarlett’s Newest Is Like a Game of Clue

Movie poster for 2014 film "Under the Skin"This morning, I decided to have a chore-free Saturday. Well not exactly chore free, but I mostly spent a meandering day north of San Francisco in beautiful, sunny Marin County, checking off non-urgent items lingering on my to-do list. Charcoal filters for my compost bucket? Check. A new one-quart saucepan to replace the old one with the broken lid? Check, again.

I also visited multiple stores in search of, of all things, a new comb. Last weekend I somehow mislaid my cosmetic case, requiring a mopey trip to Sephora to replace the contents – so frustrating, and mighty pricey. Plus, who knew a good comb, like a good man, would be so hard to find?

ElvisThe comb needs to be small enough to fit into my new, small cosmetics bag, with teeth that are smooth and thick enough to glide through my hair and across my scalp, without the sensation of being inspected for lice. I’m making do with a scratchy black Ace number that cost about $2, and I feel like I’m channeling Elvis whenever I use it.

Too bad I didn’t lose a hairbrush. If I had, I would have had dozens to choose from at any store. Apparently, Americans no longer comb. They brush.

Smack in the middle of my duties, I decided to catch a movie: Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson. I’m not normally a Sci-Fi fan, but I gave it a shot because it is set in Scotland, and I’ve been feeling homesick for Britain of late.

I have never been so close to walking out of a film, yet afterwards felt so glad I stuck it out. (Alas, stunning shots of Scotland weren’t as plentiful as I’d hoped. And the Glaswegian accents were so thick, I could have used subtitles. If you’ve seen the movie, what the HELL was the bus driver saying?!?!)

I will not give away the plot here, because the pleasure of Under the Skin is piecing together scattered hints. It’s a bit like the neo-noir thriller Memento (2000), but more subtle. The story is extremely visual; there is so little dialogue, I suspect Scarlett learned all her lines in one afternoon.

The first 30 minutes or so really does plod along, as Johansson’s character cruises the streets of Glasgow looking for solo men to take home. While her agenda is murky, clearly it’s not sex she’s after. A pattern repeats itself with each guy, but every pick up provides a sliver of new visual information that will (for the most part) make sense later. There is no on-screen sex or violence, but from the get-go it’s pretty obvious that the men come to a terrible end.

About mid-way through the film, Scarlett’s character inexplicably changes her behavior – I wish I understood why, probably my biggest beef with Under the Skin – and that’s when the plot finally gets some traction. Honestly, I didn’t fully understand or appreciate what went down in the film, until I left the theatre and slipped behind the wheel of my car. I experienced mini revelations in every aisle of Whole Foods, and on the drive back to the city.

Scarlett Johansson gets her kit off at several points in the film, which by itself may be worth the price of admission for most male moviegoers. For my part, I must admit I was pleased to see a trim, healthy looking woman on screen for a change, instead of an undernourished marathoner. Scarlett Johansson has some meat on her bones, and she looks fantastic.. even if her character is incredibly spooky.

Have you seen Under the Skin? Or read the book? If so, let’s hear your review! If you catch the film after reading this, and find yourself frustrated by the pace and ambiguities… just remember the title.

Ahem, it’s a hint.

 

Promotional still from the 2014 film "Under the Skin" starring Scarlett Johansson

Stopped Cold at AT&T Park

San Francisco Giants vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, April 10, 2014. AT&T Park. San Francisco, CA.

AT&T Park (April 10, 2014)

 

On Thursday, I shivered through my first regular season San Francisco Giants game of 2014.  The night air was so cold, I had to slip into my down jacket before the end of the second inning — not a good sign. Unfortunately, I forgot my gloves.

It was “Farewell to the ‘Stick” night — a celebration of more than 50 years of baseball and football played amidst wind, fog and swirling trash at soon-to-be-demolished Candlestick Park. The fitting promotional giveaway was a commemorative scarf that smelled awful when removed from its plastic bag. I wore it anyway. It’s no coincidence that scarves are among the most popular promos at AT&T Park. On my way home, I encountered at least one freezing fan offering to BUY one off someone.

Granted, East Coast teams play in some very cold temperatures in the early months of the season — a few years ago, the Cleveland Indians home opener was SNOWED out — but they have the scorching heat of June through August to look forward to. In San Francisco, we probably won’t see weather like that at a night game unless we make it to the post-season in October.

I’m surprised AT&T Park hasn’t tried a mittens promotional giveaway. Or a hand warmer giveaway.

Naturally, such an extremity-numbing game went to extra innings, and unfortunately the Giants wound up losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks by one run in the 10th. Still, my seat — four rows from the field, right next to the visitors dugout — was something to blog home about. I can only assume that the original owner gave up price-gouging for Lent, because I bought it on StubHub for at or near face value. Bless you, kind stranger.

Apologies for any camera shake. I shot until the shivering made it too hard to keep still…

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Coloring Inside the Lines

Sunrise, Russian Hill. San Francisco, CA.

Sunrise, Russian Hill. San Francisco, CA.

I have a blog post inside me, just ITCHING to get out. It’s about The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. Published to great acclaim in 2012, the book is fascinating and confidence-boosting — because Duhigg contends (with research to back him up) that once you break down what constitutes a habit, it’s easier to create those you most want, and nudge those you don’t into hibernation.

The book is also extremely well written.  I attended a writing seminar a year or so ago, where the speaker encouraged attendees to hone our way with words by reading great writing… like this.

I’ve decided to hold off, though, until I finish the book… which will be soon. The Power of Habit is 416 pages long, but if you enjoy digging deep into what makes human beings tick, it’s a very fast read.

Today I took a break from examining habit making-and-breaking to experiment with Color Splash, a mobile app that allows users to turn a color photo black and white, then retrieve color in a particular section using his/her finger.  I’m hooked.

I’ll take in my first regular season San Francisco Giants game of 2014 tomorrow night, and I guarantee you I’ll frame some of my photos with Color Splash in mind.

Check out my early works, using a few oldies but goodies as canvases.

Anyone else use the Color Splash app and love it?

 

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It Was All Over, Including the Shouting

2014 MLB Opening Week stencil on the field at Oakland Coliseum. April 2, 2014

On April 2, I caught the second half of a double-header between the Oakland Athletics and the Cleveland Indians. (The game had been rescheduled from the previous evening, due to rain.) I sat close the Indians’ dugout. The cheeks in my section’s seats were just as likely to belong to a Tribe fan, as an A’s fan. My people showed up well, and in respectable numbers. Even so, after the game I felt lucky to escape Oakland Coliseum with my Indians jersey intact.

What is UP with Oakland fans? Some of them are crazy, and I don’t mean in a zany, entertaining, endearing way. I suppose if I had to watch baseball in a dilapidated stadium with regular sewage back-ups and remnants of the Raiders’ gridiron still visible in August, I’d be bitter too. In fact, I have traditionally favored building the A’s a new stadium south of San Francisco, because they are an excellent team and lifting them up would be good for baseball. Now, I’m not so sure.

Forget the bleachers, it would seem that the nastiest A’s fans prefer to sit near first base, close to the visitor’s dugout — for maximum heckling effect. They don’t just ridicule opposing players; they also deride their fans, should they dare to cheer audibly. It’s as if they enjoy HATING the opposition more than they like cheering for their own team, which seems twisted and sad.

First baseman Nick Swisher joined the Tribe two years ago, and I’ve seen him play in Oakland before. Each time, A’s fans hurl hateful insults at him like I’ve never heard. I mean it, and I’m from CLEVELAND, where LeBron James committed his crimes against humanity. I understand justified vitriol of fans who have been wronged – but LeBron voluntarily took his talents to Miami in 2010. Since then, like most Cavs fans, I have pulled myself together and moved on.

Nick Swisher left Oakland six seasons ago, and not even by choice! He was traded to the Chicago White Sox in 2008, before again being traded to the New York Yankees. One particularly odious Oakland fan heckled Swisher over and over for his greediness, how much he got paid per strikeout etc., so I assume he thought Swisher had jumped ship to the Yankees for their deep pockets. Unfortunately this ill-informed joker didn’t shut up all night.

Another bad, bad fan sat nearby, solo. (I was also a party of one, but at least I have decent photos to show for it.) This guy drank a lot, and appeared to seethe even when the A’s led on the scoreboard – which was often. His favorite taunt? “You WEEEEEAAAAAK!” Not “you are weak” or “you’re weak”. But “YOU WEAK”. He even called Indians catcher Carlos Santana weak after he got a hit. A double. Whatever.

This sad little man belittled Santana with racist insults I won’t repeat here, because they honestly made me sick to my stomach. (I heard similar taunting, to a much lesser extent, at a spring training game in March.) As if that wasn’t bad enough, strangers around the idiot LAUGHED. I overheard another heckler say, “This guy is so funny, he could keep me going all night!” Oh.My.God.

I refuse to accept the “nervous laughter” defense here. If you are nervous try biting your nails, grinding your teeth or indulging in emotional eating like a normal person. Do not giggle or chuckle. It only encourages a bigot.

Meanwhile, Oakland Coliseum “Guest Services” personnel stood around looking bored. I still am not sure what services they provide.

Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. This last heckler also went after shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera a few times, but inadvertently referred to him as “Melky”. Such was the level of aptitude I was surrounded by. I was tempted to point out that Melky Cabrera is a different player who has never worn an Indians uniform, but the risk of a “they all look alike to me” comeback was just too high.

So it was only fitting that the Indians turned things around in the 9th inning, with the help of A’s pitcher Jim Johnson. Things got very quiet, except for an occasional insult redirected at Johnson, instead of my Tribe. The Indians won, 6-4. As I packed up my camera equipment, I couldn’t help but notice that the heckling mob had already dissipated. Guess they were worried about traffic on a chilly Wednesday night. In Oakland, California. At 9:30 p.m.

Funny, Nick Swisher appeared to find the post-game atmosphere quite comfortable. Very satisfying.

I could say “suck it”, but I won’t. Instead I’ll say, Roll Tribe.. and congratulations to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who signed a six-year, $52.5 million contract with the Indians today — one day after his 27th birthday.

I called it first: He’s a keeper. Happy birthday Jason.

Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis celebrates the Tribe's taking the lead in the 9th inning at Oakland Coliseum. April 2, 2014.

Jason Kipnis, back when he was 26.

3 Observations From 2014 Spring Training

Child's hand holding a baseball with the Cleveland Indians logo, waiting for a player to sign itI returned from Scottsdale and Cactus League baseball less than 48 hours ago, and am clinging desperately to the last shreds of my spring training vacation buzz. I didn’t have much time to blog and post photos while I was away, so now I’m playing catch(!) up. (Playing catch? See what I did there?) I also have some reflections on my five days in the Arizona desert.

America’s pastime isn’t always pretty: I often hear Bay Area dwellers caveat something going on around us with, “but of course, we live in a bubble.” It’s a good economy bubble, thanks to the Silicon Valley, as well as a great weather bubble – and as a result, San Francisco attracts a lot of young, educated, physically active people. Live here long enough, and you can lose sight of how the rest of America actually looks and behaves. Spring training in Scottsdale delivers an eyeful of reality.

I am not a perfect physical specimen, and I struggle to maintain a healthy weight, yet when I’m at Spring Training I often find myself both reassured (“Hey, maybe I’m not in such bad shape!”), and alarmed by the amount of morbid obesity around me. Listen, like most fans I indulge in ballpark food with relish (and mustard) – but it’s shocking to see so many overweight, middle-aged people sucking down multiple beers, foot-long chili cheese dogs and double cone soft serve ice cream… then hiring a golf cart to ride – rather than walk — .8 miles to their hotel. A few of these folks may have an injury or disability that impacts their mobility, but not THAT many.

If you see a slim person at Spring Training, it’s dollars to doughnuts (pun intended) that he/she is under 25 years of age, with a metabolism that is still working overtime. And if she’s a woman, she’s probably wearing false eyelashes, a push-up bra, a skin-tight tank top and very short shorts. One such young woman stood next to me before Sunday’s Giants/Indians game, as I took some of the photos below. Flashing her ample cleavage and a button declaring “It’s My Birthday”, she got lots of autographs from Indians players, despite not knowing their names or the positions they play. I SUSPECT it wasn’t the birthday button that did the trick. Speaking of autographs…

I don’t get the autograph thing: Maybe I’m bitter, because the first (and last) autograph I ever got — from Chris Evert, who I adored as a kid and still think is pretty awesome – I misplaced almost immediately, and was heartbroken. I guess I was so scarred by the loss, it soured me on the whole autograph-getting experience. So I am fascinated by grown men who jostle and elbow their way to the edge of the field each day, hoping to get a signature on a ball or cap brim. Many of them enjoy telling players stories as they sign, like “I was at the game where you hit that homer off Clayton Kershaw”, or whatever. The players politely nod and say things like, “Oh yeah? That’s cool.” Once they have an autograph in hand, these men beam like little boys.

To each his own, right? The autograph frenzy only bothers me when I see a father pushing his kid HARD to get a signature, and it’s clearly the dad’s thing. The kid doesn’t care. In fact, before the aforementioned Giants/Indians game, a dad – who I’m pretty sure is an otherwise good guy and loving father – forced his super-shy son to the front of the crowd. When the kid hung back and an Indians player missed him as he moved down the line signing for fans, the dad got overly enthusiastic and shouted “little boy right there, you missed a little boy to your right, little boy, little boy”. The player stopped cold, glared and asked, “You telling me to sign?” He eventually signed the boy’s ball, and father and son thanked him. It was awkward. I was sorry for the dad, getting schooled in front of the crowd. But I also sympathize with players, who must get fed up with pushy fans treating them like employees who OWE THEM an autograph.

Shop much?: The only thing at spring training that’s more frantic than a line of autograph hounds, is the San Francisco Giants shop in Scottsdale Stadium. Step inside and it’s like you’ve been sucked into the famous Running of the Brides at Filene’s basement. There is pushing, shoving and general rudeness by fans who are seemingly unaware that there are Dugout Stores all over the Bay Area, or that most Giants swag is available online. Not sure how they manage to function in society in the off-season. The weird thing is, while the Cleveland Indians/Cincinnati Reds shop at Goodyear Ballpark is always crowded, it lacks Scottsdale’s mob-like, looter vibe. I wonder what the Cubs team shop in Mesa is like? Cubs fans are rabid too, but Chicagoans have Midwestern manners so…

There it is. A recap of my easing into baseball season, in fewer than 1,000 words. Despite wearing 50 SPF sunscreen I picked up some color (in the form of freckles), and I took good photos, consumed a few warm-weather cocktails, and shook off a load of work stress.

Next step: Opening Day! Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!

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