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Sorry, We’re Out of Chicken

September 2, 2011

“Hello, and welcome to Boston Market. How can I help you?”

“Uhh ya, I’ll take a quarter white…”

“Sorry sir, we’re actually out of chicken tonight. Can I interest you in some brisket?”

At some point in my life, just like everyone, I learned that occasionally the things I hold dear will let me down. That night in College Park long ago, I learned that even the surest of sure things can break your heart.

Case in point – wasn’t this the year we were going to crack .500, Baltimore? Wasn’t it? Thanks for nothing.

But I digress. Suffice it to say, particularly as a result of my experiences in the sports world, I have become accustomed to disappointment. However, seldom have so many things that I’ve come to rely on as sources of comfort, strength and, indeed, my very identity, combined to pull the rug out from underneath me with as much gusto as they did today.

As many of you may know, I am a big fan of soccer, or footy as it’s known in certain circles. This weekend, while many of will be throwing on your swim trunks and heading to the beach, I’ll be cozying up on a bar stool watching pivotal matches between European national teams keen to qualify for Euro 2012, the second biggest soccer tournament in the world.

At least, I thought I was.

For obvious reasons, the two teams that I’m interested in watching are Ireland and Scotland (believe it or not, I am not of Latino origin, despite what my blog, or my steady diet of homemade burritos may have led you to believe). After failing to find a bar online announcing that they were showing either game, I decided to put my tools as a digital strategist to work by reaching out to some fine establishments on Twitter to find a bar playing the game. After getting turned down by several public houses, I was down to ol’ reliable, Ireland’s Four Courts.

I’m a big fan of Four Courts. They’re maybe the DC area’s only Liverpool bar, they always show me a good time in the evenings, and gosh darn it, Maddie just can’t get enough of their delicious Sunday buffet. It truly is fun for the whole family. Beyond that, if anybody is going to show the Ireland game, it has to be Arlington’s most successful Irish bar. Right?

Not only was I friendly, look at my Avatar. Who could possibly disappoint someone who looks so happy, so full of life? Note: What I’m about to show you may change how you see the world.

Look, I’m not in the business of commenting on hundreds of years of violence and repression that I’m separated from by several generations and hundreds of miles.

But still. Come on, man. Doesn’t get much worse than that.

Let’s review who let me down today.

Twitter – Somehow my unblemished record of receiving great customer service and pleasing answers on Twitter has come to a screeching halt. Still love you, Twitter, but you’re better than that.

Ireland’s Four Courts – I’m utterly speechless. How could you have forsaken all that is Irish? On the other hand, at least now when I’m there I’ll feel like less of a jerk if I stray from the standard traditional Irish drinks of Guinness and Red Headed Sluts.

Capitalism – Alright, I get it. It’s just not cost-effective to show a pay-per-view soccer game on a Friday afternoon prior to a major holiday weekend. Whatever. Somebody somewhere should have figured out how to make money off of me for this game. The fact that they haven’t is just down right Un-American. Which leads me to my final point…

America – Nobody said this was Tijuana, but I’m pretty sure this is still the Land of Opportunity. You want to sit down at a restaurant and eat a bacon cheeseburger and mediocre Hunan Shrimp at the same time? Sure, no problem. How about a fried stick of butter? Boom. Done.

An Irish soccer game in an Irish soccer bar? Nope. Sorry, but how about the most historically disagreeable alternative?

I’m sure there was a good reason way back when for why Boston Market had allowed itself to run out of the one ingredient that is included in roughly 97% of their meals, and there’s probably an even better reason to explain today’s unfortunate turn of events.

Still, just like that night in College Park, it’s going to be difficult for me to sleep in this new world that I live in. Of course, back then, it was because I had settled for nearly a gallon of mashed potatoes with gravy for dinner.

Tonight, though, the feeling in my stomach will be the same.

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How to Build a Team (Part 3)

June 17, 2011

When I was young, my life’s goal was to be a part-time astronaut, part-time mailman. Some kids want to be firemen or cowboys, but I was way ahead of my time – always looking for an additional revenue stream.

As I near my 27th birthday, I have found myself reflecting on the goals I set for myself as a 3 year-old, and let’s be honest, I haven’t done such a great job. I haven’t been to the moon. I stopped drinking Tang in ’94. I’ve never dressed in all denim. I don’t carry a satchel full of envelopes to work. At this point, by toddler Juan’s standards, I have been an abject failure.

In reality, I’m doing great. The truth is, somewhere along the line since 1987, many things changed. Not just my skills (I have much better balance) or my preferences (I’m a much less finicky eater), but also my priorities. Sorting things and spending half my day outside, rain or shine, just isn’t that important to me anymore. Frankly, now that I’m not so close to the ground, I’m a little afraid of heights. I don’t know if I could handle outer space. Although, astronauts are the one group where folks still consider diapers to be a viable solution, so they’ve got that going for them.

All of this brings me to my final point about what I look for in my favorite sports teams. I’ve spent the last two blog posts talking about how much I want to see chemistry succeed, and how I want my teams to look for organic growth rather than wildly over paying for athletes that are past their prime.

All of that will always be true.

However, don’t we all want just one title? Don’t we all want to take off work for one victory parade? I know I do.

For me, rooting for a sports team is about believing in something, but as a fellow blogger pointed out so eloquently, we all know this is pretty irrational, right? Ultimately, sports are in many ways a distraction from the things that really matter. Of course, it’s all pretty awesome. I won’t pretend that I’m getting disillusioned about this thing that I’ve devoted the vast majority of my free time to for the better part of my life. Still, the conclusion I keep coming to is that if I’m putting this much effort into being a great fan, I should probably get something out of it.

It’s almost like a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Sports Needs. Sure, I want to root for a a team filled of homegrown, selfless talented athletes. Who doesn’t? But, before I can get there, I want to root for a team that can stay about .500 on a regular basis. Conversely, after their several recent championships, Boston sports fans can now decide they’ll only root for a championship team filled entirely with guys named Steve. That’s the top of the Juan’s Sports Hierarchy. Teams of Steves.

So, yes, I’m fundamentally against what happened for the Miami Heat, but even still, if Lebron had said “I’ve decided to take my talents to Chocolate City, along with a few of my particularly talented friends,” I wouldn’t have had a problem pretending to care about the Wizards.

In the end, it’s not my career we’re talking about. It’s not my legacy. For me, as the fan, it’s the memories. I don’t have to answer for the questionable ethics or signing tactics of my teams’ owners and players. I know because my friends that are Yankees fans have avoided my accusations for years.

It’s been 20 years since one of my pro teams got to visit the White House. In ’91, I was still sort of floating the idea of space exploration. A lot has changed. I still have my principles, but I’m ready to celebrate. It’s time for a title in DC, and I’m not choosy about how we get it.

“Pick me out a winner Bobby.”

How to Build a Team (Part 2)

June 7, 2011

Maddie was not buying my shaky team-building argument here. I may also have been cooking up a strong fist pump. I'm not sure which.

Between fist pumps and jagerbombs during a Jersey Shore beach day (disclosure: we actually did not drink any jagerbombs), Maddie and I were discussing the most recent successes of her high school’s track team. As Northwest locked up a 4A state championship, Maddie triumphantly commented that her alma mater had done such a great job building a strong program.

With a heavy dose of assuming I had won the debate that was brewing before it began, I replied, “Build a program? At a public school? Don’t you just kind of take what you can get?”

As luck would have it, I was armed with the knowledge I had gained from an article in The Economist from the week before praising Barcelona FC’s techniques for creating the business management model to be emulated by the rest of the sports world. As smug as could be, I thought, “Is a professional sports team really going to look to a public school track team for management insights?”

Of course, the answer to that question is no (you don’t need an MBA to run a high school track team, but you probably might want to as the president of a multi-million dollar soccer club), but that isn’t the point.

As Mads explained to me the realities of luring athletes from inside the school, and at times from outside, I realized my whole concept of how professional sports teams are built is wildly influenced by the nature of the business of professional sports. Teams engaging in some kind of questionable bending of the ideals or ethics of team building are so common that I just assume it is par for the course.

Take, for instance, Barcelona. While I was so busy adding to their hype in my last post, I opted to leave out some key details about their great formula for team building (truthbetold, so did The Economist). Most notably, financially, their model isn’t sustainable. While they have a bunch of immensely talented youngsters growing in their academy, many of those talented kids turn into talented adults who demand large salaries. As a result, the heart of Catalan culture is in an awful lot of debt.

Taking it back stateside, the realization that teams are very rarely pulled together the way I feel like they should be – with a minimum of purchasing or too heavy an emphasis on a high-priced individual talent – brought me to reconsider my reactions to a few offseason moves. With the Heat nearing an NBA Championship, I took a long hard look at my original conclusions about “The Decision.”

Putting aside the wild PR stunt of The Decision itself, my initial analysis of the Heat’s chances were that they ultimately were doomed to fail because you can’t buy talent at the cost of losing chemistry and key role players. Time and again, owners and GMs, particularly for our own Washington Redskins, have proven that fact.

Last summer, we criticized LeBron for giving up on trying to win on his own but, while I was so fixed on that key piece of Juan’s Team Philosophy, I overlooked the real reason why the Heat would actually be successful this year.

(Note: this is the easiest argument I’ve had to make since they’re still alive to win it all)

While owners and GMs fail when they gamble on pairing high-priced talented athletes together, the Heat took a different approach. Instead of taking a shot in the dark with 3 guys that had never shared a court, they found some guys with a history. LeBron and Dwyane Wade started their whole conversation after realizing their enjoyed playing with each other in the Olympics and the World Championships. They realized that they had chemistry, and that’s a much better investment than your standard shot in the dark with offseason moves.

Maybe I’m just reaching this conclusion late, but with all the trash I talked, it’s needs to be said. I officially amend my Juan’s Team Philosophy to allow attempting to buy a championship if the players in question have actually played together previously with success.

So, Sorry LeBron. You’re a jerk, but you’re a jerk that was at least right about what it takes to win.

###

Get ready for the thrilling conclusion of my How to Build a Team series next week when I make some unthinkable confessions about building a championship team.

How to Build a Team (Part 1)

June 1, 2011

I used to think you couldn’t buy a team, and with Lebron’s “Decision” to join his talented friends in Miami, I stubbornly assumed my belief would be given more ammunition as the Heat would fail without chemistry or strong role players. Well, it rarely happens, but I was wrong, but the reason why I was wrong might surprise you.

###

Pulling together two groups of talented athletes from rival college hockey teams was a major hurdle for the 1980 Men’s US Hockey team that upset the Soviets and went on to win the gold medal in Lake Placid. Getting players from Boston University to gel with players from the University of Minnesota, who they had violently battled with in the 1977 Frozen Four, was an important task for Coach Herb Brooks. In the movie Miracle, one of my favorites, the team’s assistant coach and doctor joke that the initial on ice tension between the two factions was “their own little cold war.”

No matter what team you’re in charge of, whether it’s your softball team, your nephew’s soccer team or your cube of interns at work, one of the biggest challenges is to get your group to care more about the success and well-being of the team and their fellow team members than they care about their own individual achievements. Getting a whole team to work or play together frequently doesn’t come naturally, and it can be considerably more difficult if your team members don’t get off on the right foot.

For the late Herb Brooks, well-known for his mind games, the solution was long intense practices. In Miracle, the team’s doctor, aptly named “Doc,” speculates that the players were so busy working and resenting Brooks that they were too distracted to hate each other.

I was thinking about this because my philosophy about how to make a team was both confirmed and wildly proven wrong this week (so much so that I think I have too much for one blog post, which is why this is just Part 1).

Call me old-fashioned, but it has always been my stubborn belief that you can’t buy a team. A team is created through chemistry, mutual respect, and a shared sense of purpose – stuff that doesn’t have a price tag and can’t really be coached.

Watching Barcelona win the Champions League title on Saturday justified my long-held belief. Here’s a team of guys that has mostly played with each other for years, and  has a common sense of purpose. Barcelona not only has perhaps the soccer world’s most famous and most successful youth academy, they also represent the Catalan people, a group with its own identity that strives to break free from Spain. Chemistry, sense of purpose, talent, mutual respect – all things Barcelona has in spades. In my opinion, it’s no wonder that they’re so dominant.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s Lebron, DWade, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Miami Heat. On the surface, this is a group that really only has the talent portion of Juan’s Great Team Formula. Even entering the playoffs with the league’s third best record, I didn’t think it was possible. The problem, or the solution if you’re a Heat fan, is that I wasn’t alone. With so many people rooting against them or believing that they couldn’t be successful, they have quite a chip on their shoulders. What’s more, this isn’t just about Lebron, or even just their 3 high-priced superstars.

This is about the team, and that’s where we all messed around and created a monster. Any time a team gets the idea that nobody believes in them, they could be primed for overachieving. Just ask the 2007 New York Giants, who so famously denied the 18-0 Patriots their perfect season.

Maybe it’s just my way of allowing myself to believe in two opposing philosophies, but I think it’s clear that the Heat have found that elusive team dynamic with a little bit of help from the general public that was so quick to chug the haterade. I know I was. Realizing that, it wouldn’t surprise me if we’re done in 4 or 5 here.

But hey, what do I know? I’m not really an NBA fan. Would the Heat be as motivated and successful if more people had loved them and crowned them from day one?

Crabcakes, Football And…

May 18, 2011
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Wedding Crashers famously taught us that there are just two things that “Maryland Does.” In reality, you can add a third thing to the list already home to crabcakes and football. Of course, I’m referring to Preakness.

Ah, Preakness. The under-appreciated middle child of the Triple Crown. The staging area for any Kentucky Derby-winning horse looking to make history not made since Affirmed in ’78. Sure, there’s plenty else that will be going on at Pimlico on Saturday. Notably, flying cans of beer, Kegasus, and more awkward sunburn than an organic nudist colony. Oh, and there’s going to be a concert of some kind.

However, I’d prefer to discuss the horses. After all, that’s what this thing is supposed to be all about, right?

This one's for all the black-eyed susans.

So, for your ill-informed legal gambling pleasure, here is my take on the field for this, the 136th running of the Preakness Stakes.

    1. Astrology (15-1) – There’s just nothing positive about this horse. Granted, with my success picking the winner of this race, I might as well be taking cues from my horoscope this year. That being said, there’s no chance I’m pinning my hopes of reversing my fortunes to Ms. Cleo here.
    2. Norman Asbjornson (30-1) – This sounds like a fake name. Strangely, it’s actually the name of a successful CEO from Tulsa. I don’t normally recommend naming your horse after an actual person, but if you do, you could do worse than naming it after a winner. My guess is that Norm is going to make some noise during this mile and 3/16.
    3. King Congie (20-1) – There’s a bit of karma riding on this horse, as he is named in memory of someone who died of a rare bone disease. Could there be some magic in gate #3? Maybe. Either way, it’s a sure thing Bob Costas will shed more light on the story at some point before race time.
    4. Flashpoint (20-1) – This horse shares its name with a Canadian police drama about an “elite tactical unit.” It was my understanding that Canada was free of high profile bank robberies and other hostage situations. Hopefully this horse isn’t also built on a foundation of lies.
    5. Shackleford(12-1) – I’ll just come out an say it – if you’re looking to inspire your horse, you’re probably going to want to avoid any imagery typically associated with a medieval dungeon. I’m going to avoid shackling my $2 bet to a loser here. I hope you do, too.
    6. Sway Away (15-1) – One letter away from Stay Away. Might be a sign. This horse is the son of famous 2005 Preakness winner Afleet Alex, who, if he had swayed a little closer to the Maryland mud as he turned for home that May, probably would have gone on to serve a purpose other than fathering thoroughbred race horses.
    7. Midnight Interlude (15-1) – Speaking of babymaking, if mild sexual innuendos are your thing, this is your horse. Even though he didn’t run so well in the first leg of this three-city tour, this is Maddie’s pick. She has a way of picking these things without knowing much about it. So, seeing 7 cross the finish line first would be a classic example of less being more as I’ve put several hours of research into this. Probably a great bet.
    8. Dance City (12-1) – Interesting horse racing fact, Dance City is related to 1952 Preakness winner Native Dancer through both sides of his family tree. While technically, this type of relationship would still be legal for humans, it certainly wouldn’t be recommended. My guess is this horse runs the wrong way at some point.
    9. Mucho Macho Man (6-1) – This horse has a Facebook page! I’m not sure how that translates onto the racetrack, but the power of social media should be enough to get him into the money. However, I’m hesistant since his name is either offensive to our nation’s rising Hispanic population with it’s awkward Spanglish, or the Village People. I’m not sure which.
    10. Dialed In (9-2) – I’d feel better about this if he was actually dialed in. On the other hand, his jockey has a French last name, which feels like something I tend to support for whatever reason. As the Kentucky Derby favorite is back to try his luck in Baltimore, this is your horse if you’re a fan of comeback stories.
    11. Animal Kingdom (2-1; Derby Winner) – Sooner or later we’re going to see another Triple Crown winner. Rooting against that is just plain Un-American. If this horse wins, it will be the equivalent of setting up a Yankees-Red Sox ALCS  for horse racing (which, of course, is like an all Michael Jackson number ones episode of Glee, for you non-baseball fans).
    12. Isn’t He Perfect (30-1) – Let’s be honest, at 30-1, he probably isn’t.
    13. Concealed Identity (30-1) – Lots to like here. Sounds like an alternative title for the first Jason Bourne movie. Any kind of back story including secret CIA training or extensive martial arts expertise will be enough to get me involved here.
    14. Mr. Commons (20-1) – Here’s how they getcha. Find a great horse, stick a nondescript name on him like Average Joe or Some Guy From Accounting, give him middle-of-the-road odds, and place him way on the outside where everybody forgets about him. Classic formula for a spoiler here.
Juan’s Picks
Win – Animal Kingdom – Let’s keep history alive.
Place – Mr. Commons – They’ll never see him coming.

Show – Norman Asbjornson – How can you not look for Stormin’ Norman to finish in the money?

Don’t forget your SPF 100 folks. Looks like it’s going to be a hot one this year.

Shocker of the Week

May 16, 2011
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Author’s Note: Since this week marks the five-year anniversary of my undergrad graduation, here’s a throwback post to my college musings, the infamous Shockers of the Week

This week’s shocker of the week goes to… well… me. Who else?

It’s funny how sometimes one action can directly lead another. This particular edition, as is often the case when I am featured, involves a miserable failure which led to another failure, that at the time felt like a glorious victory.

Our story begins on the fields that run along the Potomac south of the Tidal Basin known as the Polo Fields. As I was walking back through the mist across the empty fields after a soccer game, I saw a familiar site – presumably the DC area’s only weekly cricket match. Admiring the scene that looked like a Bollywood Field of Dreams (aside from the Jefferson Memorial in the background), I allowed myself to daydream a bit.

What if, I wondered, they hit the ball in my general direction giving me an opportunity to display my exceptional knowledge of international team sports by waiting for the ball to exit the field of play while also showcasing my athletic prowess with a strong grab and toss back to the bowler. Just the ego boost I needed after a mediocre game of soccer.

Eventually, I found myself walking along the large field, and sure enough, a looping fly ball was heading right towards me. “You have gotta be kidding me,” I thought. With my soccer gear in one hand (it’s important for me to note that I was at a disadvantage), I settled back, and looking up into the falling rain drops, waited for the ball to easily drop into my hand. But then, just as the moment approached, I panicked thinking “wait, is this not going to be as soft and cushy as I think it is?”

The ball skimmed off my wrist and into oncoming traffic – a situation I briefly considered replicating for myself rather than endure the embarrassment that followed as I was heckled mercilessly by the crowd of cricketers.

***

That evening, I went to a wedding, and it seemed I would be forced to see the day come to an end without overcoming the afternoon’s embarrassment. However, just as Handy hilariously produced the garter from his wife Tasja’s leg, I realized I had a shot at redemption. I would not let another opportunity to catch a falling object fall by the wayside. The next three pictures tell the tale:

I got in a good athletic stance. As you can see, I'm the only one actually trying here.

The real tragedy in this story is the 13 year old to my left. As you can see, Berg's head was in the right place as he attempted to direct the proceedings. I, however, had my eye on the prize. Fortunately, no one got a picture of his heart breaking.

I wish I could tell you that Handy made a glorious toss of the garter into the crowd. I wish I could tell you that in a rare display of humility and honor that I boxed everyone else out and let that eager 13 year old collect the spoils. I wish I could, but I can’t.

Handy opted for a seldom attempted slingshot approach, and the garter fell meekly 5 feet in front of the crowd. Before anyone could really decide if it was a legal toss, I scooped it off the ground, and started celebrating like it was Lake Placid and I had just singlehandedly knocked off the Soviets.

There’s a lesson here somewhere, but I think it’s too soon for me to quite know what it is.

A Wizard By Any Other Name

May 11, 2011

The one thing I remember about when it happened was a 5 o’ clock news story showing an ecstatic seven-year-old jumping around his family room. In retrospect, it’s probably the least enthusiastic I’ve been about something other than your standard Disney lineup or Shrek 3 that’s made a child so happy. Even though I, too, was a child at the time, I wasn’t alone. From my fragile recollection, I don’t recall a single person being happy with what had happened or where we ended up.

Anyone living in the DC area in 1995 can probably guess that the event I’m referring to is the controversial decision to change the name of the Washington Bullets to the Washington Wizards, a name, as the story goes, submitted to the contest by an area kid (which beat out the Sea Dogs, the Express, the Dragons, and the Stallions and 800 other names).

I haven’t thought about it much since the mid-90’s when then owner Abe Pollin made the decision to change the name, but for the most part, I’ve held onto the opinion formed 15 years ago by John, age 11.

  • The name doesn’t make sense
  • Alliteration is overrated
  • If an organization with an acronym says it’s a bad name (in this case the NAACP), it’s probably a bad name

For essentially all of my adult life, I’ve felt that they should scrap the Wizards and go back to the Bullets. However, with the unveiling of the new Wizards uniforms, colors and logo, which are a deliberate hat tip to the image we left behind, I found myself wondering if I still feel the same way.

After some 12 Angry Men style stubborn against the grain thinking, and one comment from Ted Leonsis, it’s official, I’m okay with the Wizards. (WHOA!) I know. I know. It just sounds crazy, but it’s true, and here’s why.

First and foremost, Ted is right. The issue here isn’t the name, it’s the team. While a rose by any other name would probably still smell as sweet, there’s nothing you can call crab grass to stop it from taking over your lawn. That is a fact. Changing the name may bring people back, but to what? The team is still rebuilding. I have trouble believing that DC sports fans who claim they’ll care more when the team changes back to the Bullets will stick around if they have to suffer through a fourth straight sub-30 win season.

Obviously, that leaves the people who are loyal to the team, but also hate the name. I am of the firm opinion that if the Wizards climb out of NBA limbo, and make a couple consistent deep runs in the playoffs, the name will become a non-issue. You can’t tell me that these people are going to care about the name on their replica jerseys if the Verizon Center is hosting an Eastern Conference Finals game.

Aside from the clear fact – these people are largely real NBA fans – there’s another under-appreciated fact folks gloss over. The Wizards have a nickname. You don’t give anything a nickname that you don’t feel a least a little strongly about. Of course, we give names to things we don’t like, but these almost always have negative connotations. Unless people who call this city’s basketball team “The Wiz” are using the name ironically – since the 90’s CD and Movie emporium of the same name was known for being unbeatable, a fact which could hardly be associated with this current incarnation – the team can feel good about their nickname, and, surprise, maybe this crappy name has some staying power after all.

Good name or bad name, the lesson here is to avoid cooking up a process for a major decision that doesn’t come down to having to choose between a few crappy options, but then again, that’s something we have to re-learn every four years in this town (ba-dum-chiiing).

So, that’s just one man’s opinion. Does the team name really matter that much, or am I way off here? Who’s got a great alternative name cooked up?

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