February 26, 2010

Message In A Bottle

I put a message in a bottle and sent it into the Lakshadweep Sea today.

While enjoying a large bottle of Kingfisher at Coconut Grove restaurant at Lighthouse Beach in Kovalam, Kerala, deep in southern India, I felt the sudden urge to leave my mark; to let someone know that I had indeed been here. That I'd seen a majestically beautiful part of India I'd only heard and read about, but never known, until now.

I longed for my message to be profound. I want the person who eventually finds it to be moved, and changed, after reading it; to never be the same from that day forward.

It came to me, almost immediately.

Written in all its glory on a tiny sheet of paper, signed "- eyebleaf," I penned one, single, solitary word: "Playoffs!!1"

February 21, 2010

Sports And The City: Bangalore

I'm sitting at NASA, "Bangalore's Hi-Tech Beer Club," watching test cricket between India and Australia. It's happy hour; my beer costs less than $1. I'm eating fiery chicken tikka. "Every step you take" by Sting is playing through the bar's speakers. You thought I was kidding about the tacky music, didn't you? Anyway, if I resided in Bangalore, this is what Sports And The City would be like. Sehwag and Karthik are batting for India. Subcontinent, represent!!1

I won't be able to watch tonight's game between Canada and the USA. Internet cafe owners have flashed me ridiculous looks when I ask if they'll be open at 6 AM. More ridiculous than the looks I already get.

But it's all good. I'm not exactly concerned over the outcome. Gold!!1

I'm working my way south (giggity), and am off to Ooty, tomorrow it seems.

Cheers, from NASA.

February 19, 2010


"I love gooooooold." - Goldmember

I share a lot in common with Goldmember. As I'm sure you do, too.

What I hate: missing the games of the XXI Olympiad. I'm not sure how it will be logistically possible, because I'm not sure where I'm going to be on Sunday, but I'm going to try and find a way to tune into the hockey clash between Canada and the USA. That's must see TV, even on the subcontinent.


February 13, 2010

The Sea is the Soundtrack

Palolem, south Goa. I've been sitting on the beach, jotting down some of my thoughts ...

1. The music out here in Goa is, for lack of a better description, TACK CITY. You can't go very far without hearing Enrique Eglasias, Savage Garden, Bryan Adams (he's Canadian, so he's cool), and, most unfortunately, Ricky Martin. Dido's "White Flag" came on a few days ago while I was having lunch and my thoughts of course drifted towards Mats Sundin. He went down with the ship. Like a right, honourable captain shoud. I miss him. It's not too late for him to come out of retirement and play with Phil Kessel. A fan can dream. Especially a Toronto sports fan.

2. When in Goa, try the Prawn/Chicken/Beef Xacuti (pronounced "cha-coothie"). It's divine.

3. I'm obviously late to the party but it certainly took me by surprise to learn that Ilya Kovalchuk is a New Jersey Devil. I can't say I saw them winning the sweepstakes. But the Devils are, as always, competitive, so I have to respect their taking the plunge. I'm curious as to when the Devils last traded a first-round draft choice. It doesn't seem like their modus operandi. They are the antithesis of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Especially when it comes to winning.

4. I'm reading Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now." The cynic in me is having a hard time believing it's anything but 270-odd pages of complete, utter bullshit. Actually, I was reading it. It was stolen yesterday from the deck of my beach hut down here in Palolem. TRUST NOBODY.

5. There are no traffic lights in Goa. Not in the cities, not in the tourist beaches areas, nowhere. I've yet to come across one. While speed bumps, and potholes that make Steeles Avenue seem like asphalt heaven, are numerous, the only time a car comes to complete stop is when cows set up shop on the roads.

6. While sitting on the beach drinking buckets of Kingfisher, my thoughts invariably drifted towards the boys of summer, our Toronto Blue Jays. It's been quite the few months for Alex Anthopoulos and, while expectations are low, nothing would please me more than seeing the 2010 squad win more than 75 games; more than they won in 2009 with Roy Halladay taking the mound every five days. It's nothing against Doc; how could it be? But I've turned the page. I'm genuinely excited about the future.

7. I have no idea who Kevin Gregg is.

8. As I'm sure you noticed, the new Sports And The City banner is up. Welcome to your Aaron Hill years. And thanks, Deaner.

9. While getting my head shaved a couple of days ago, the power went out. Which I of course knew it would. For a good half hour, to boot. Needless to say, I got to know my barber, Imran from Faridabad, really well. With half a buzzed head, I didn't really have a choice. I'm not religious and don't often pray, but sitting in that chair, I asked the heavens for electricity.

10. We take electricity and hot water for granted in the west. Perhaps that's why the terrorists hate us.

11. I'm hoping to return home a less bitter man. More contentment, less complaining. In all walks of life. With that in mind, my thoughts drifted towards Cito Gaston. The Manager. When the Blue Jays ruled the baseball world, I was too young to know that Gaston doesn't have a clue in the dugout. I've figured it out now. But I'm not going to spend 2010 complaining about his shortcomings. What's the point? Cito is what he is. No one, especially not me, can take his World Series rings away from him. I'm going to do my best to enjoy his swan song, and remember the good times. Such as the emergence of Adam Lind. If Cito can somehow do the same with Travis Snider, we're all good.

12. Once you ride public transportation in India, you won't give a damn about a TTC booth operator taking a power nap. Again, we're spoiled out west. Automated announcements, air conditioning, and, I don't know, a bus not in motion while you hang half way out the back door. The fare? Ten rupees. I guess you get what you pay for, eh?

13. The locals have a staring problem. Necks must hurt around here.

14. India is in severe need of a humane society. Stray dogs are everywhere, and bark the nights away.

15. Nazem Kadri's NHL debut; I'm sorry I missed that. How'd my boy do?

16. I wish I knew how to ride a scooter. It would have made the Goa experience that much better. I've never ridden one, and learning in India doesn't seem all that wise. Like skiing for the first time in Whistler, which I did back in 2001. I barely survived that experience. Lesson learned. Plus, the only helmets worn around these parts are the natural kind: turbans. On an aside, it's a miracle of God that hundreds aren't killed on the roads in front of my very eyes everyday.

17. Vesa Toskala doesn't think he's a back-up. He might be as delusional as I am.

18. I might have to visit Ponani, Goa, south of here. Just so I can call home and say "Everything is wonderful; I'm in Ponani."

19. Has Chris Bosh re-signed yet? Please call/text/email when he does. Playoffs!!1

20. For the next two weeks, "Playoffs!!1" is being replaced by "Gold!!1"

February 08, 2010

Sunday Night Football

Greetings from the Indian subcontinent. Candolim beach in northern Goa, to be exact. The weather and surroundings are beautiful here. I'm making a point to enjoy both for each and every one of you.

I trust you spent your Sunday night watching football. I certainly did. On two giant projection screens. But not the game you're thinking of; Chelsea vs. Arsenal. The J29 Sports Bar here in Candolim was filled with English and Russian tourists, taking in the Premiership clash. Upon entering the outdoor restaurant, a gentlemen stopped me dead in my tracks: "You want to bet on the game, mate?" Don't mind if I do. I dropped 100 rupees on a 2-1 Chelsea final, with 6-1 odds. The restaurant's bookie had three pages of odds, from everything to the first shot, first goal, and even first team to hit the woodwork. Clearly, J29 was my type of place.

Thanks to Petr Cech, my bet was a losing one. But I can't be mad. Not at a superb goaltender. Cech is so good I almost want to become a Chelsea supporter. It was 100 rupees, or $2.44, well spent.

Speaking of 100 rupees, that's how much a 551 ml bottle of Kingfisher Indian beer goes for. Again, $2.44 very well spent. As a child, the beauty of visiting India was that it meant as much Coke, Sprite and Limca the heart could desire. Anything but water. As an adult, it's even better. Beer, beer, and more beer. Safety first, right?

And, you guessed it, "Kingfisher" is the first Indian word you need to learn. Practice makes perfect. I'm sure you'll be fine.

Back to the footy match, for a second. The Arsenal/Chelsea rivalry, and the fact that it transcends borders, only drives home the point that Toronto needs another ice hockey team. If the greater London area sports five teams in the Premiership, it's absolutely absurd that only one hockey team calls Toronto home. Yes, this is where you throw in your "And they're barely a hockey team!!!1" joke. Thanks.

And Didier Drogba. Jeez. Twelve games vs. Arsenal, and 12 goals to his name, after two Sunday night. Quite the performance, especially the second marker, coming off his left foot. Drogba's Arsenal's daddy.

Some final thoughts before I leave you:

  • In 76 starts over the past two seasons with Toronto, Vesa Toskala posted two shutouts. In two starts in one week as a Maple Leaf, J.S. Giguere has done the same. The Leafs have already won this trade.
  • My man Ian from The Blue Jay Hunter will be picking up the slack for me while I'm gone, and running the Vernon Wells Hatred Advisory System once baseball gets going. I imagine the hatred levels will be elevated as soon as spring training begins. The pressure will be on Wells from the get go. Remember: please don't boo him at the Dome. Give him a chance. Believe, dammit.
Until we meet again ...

February 03, 2010

Guest Post: Bosh Among Us

Just because our host and hero Eyebeleaf is exploring the sub-continent doesn't mean the good times should come to an end here at SATC. Please allow reluctant Raptors fan and recent Bosh convert Drew from Ghostrunner on First to make a case for CB4.

Being a basketball fan in this city before 1995 was an unusual proposition. In high school during the inaugural season, some friends and I had our request for some TVs in our local pool hall turned to the Raps first-ever game flatly denied. Personally, I was a Celtics fan growing up (watch this game live at an impressionable age and you'll understand) and while I embraced the Raptors it was a certain cold distance and growing cynicism. I loved Vince but never got too involved. Bosh played well, the team lost. Then they won, but mostly they lost. Bosh made Olympic teams and the like, but I remained slightly skeptical. Only a few short weeks ago, I voted NO in the poll on the right of your screen.

What do I have against Chris Bosh? Nothing, really. If I'm being honest, I regurgitated a few basketball truisms and dismissed Bosh out of hand. "You can't win with a jump-shooting power forward...he's not the best player on a good team...blahblahblah." But then I thought I'd actually try thinking about it, try to put Bosh in context and decide then if what I lazily thought was true.

Firstly, is there a modern player with a game similar to CB4's? The closest I could come up with (other than David West. Zing!) is Tim Duncan. Big, true power forwards often miscast as centers. Good touch around the basket but can make a jump shot too. So I thought why not see how Bosh and Duncan stack up?

Two things, really quickly, before I make with the charts. If you aren't familiar with PER, I suggest you read this. It isn't perfect but it serves as a decent way to compare basketball players as it corrects for pace. Usage % is a fancy way of showing what percentage of a teams' players directly involve said player. So, let's compare Bosh & Duncan by usage % and PER by age. click to enlarge

Interesting bordering on shocking, no? If we discount the first two years of Bosh's career, he is on a very similar path to Tim Duncan, who many believe to be one of the top 15 players of all time! Now, let's not go crazy, Chris Bosh IS NOT Tim Duncan. He'll have to maintain his current high level of production for another 6 years to enter the Duncan conversation, but the similarity exists.

Chris Bosh dedicated himself to strength and conditioning over the summer and the results are good in this, his age 25 season. But how? What is Bosh doing differently? In a word, he's acting more like Tim Duncan.

Below you'll see two graphs. They track the average field goal attempts of Chris Bosh (red & black) and Tim Duncan (silver & black) over the last four years. If the legend's a little sketchy, I'll explain. The good people at Hoopdata.com track each field goal attempt and place is in one of five categories. The tiny sections at the top are threes, at the bottom dunks. First, Chris Bosh. click to enlarge once again

Now Duncan.

There biggest change in either chart is Bosh in 2010. He finally gets up almost 10 shots per game inside 10 feet. Looking at Duncan's, chart we see that's a baseline for The Big Fundamental. Inside 10 feet, Bosh is more likely to get fouled (career high in free throws attempts!) and take higher percentage shots (career high true shooting percentage!) There's no way this is a coincidence. Bosh shaved nearly two outside jumpers a night off his total, his new total of 3 more along Timmy D's lines.

So with his newfound approach, Bosh is playing at or near Hollinger's "Strong MVP candidate level" of 26-27 PER. The team is winning more games (just not against the Pacers) but they're hardly the juggernaut of Tim Duncan's early Spurs teams. It must come down to teammates, right? Bosh plays with stiffs while Duncan plays with world-beaters? Well, yes and no.

Duncan AgeAverage Teammate PERBosh AgeAverage Teammate PER
Total14.115 14.1

Using the top nine rotation guys (by minutes played) of each team, we see the teams surrounding Bosh and young Duncan are nearly identical. One key, key difference: Duncan had one teammate (David Robinson) with a PER over 20 during each of those four years. Bosh had two teammates with PERs over 20: T.Jose Calderford in the same season, a year in which Ford played only 50 games while Jason Kapono and Andrea Bargnani played 80 each and put up PERs under 11.

So CB4 and Time Duncan aren't that different, it's the team around them. If teams built around Duncan can multiple titles, why not a team built around Bosh? They should at least be able to make a deep run in the playoffs. In other words: the Raptors should re-up Bosh for the max. What they need to do, as all teams are well served in attempting, is building a complementary team around their stud. No need to line superstars shoulder to shoulder across the court, simply recognize what they have in Bosh (a deadly low-post scorer) and flesh out the roster with at least one other marginal All-star. Add some cohesive pieces to play off the two thoroughbreds and plan the parade!

Easier said than done, but the wily Spurs continually build great teams with late round picks and cagey free agent pick ups. Hopefully the mighty BC continues to build around Toronto's biggest sports star and brings good times back to the hoop fans in this city.

Thanks to Yahoo! for the image, Basketball Reference and Hoopdata for the, uh, hoop data, Daylife for the image, and our host and hero Eyebeleaf for the platform. Deep run into the PLAYOFFS!!1!!

February 02, 2010


I've got a massive backpack, the Lonely Planet guide to India, and a return date of June 24th. After two days of intense celebration over the acquisition of Dion Phaneuf, and more importantly the departure of Vesa Toskala, I won't get to see the new and improved, offensively challenged Toronto Maple Leafs in action. I leave for the Indian subcontinent Tuesday night. The rebuild, however, is finally officially underway, and I've found comfort in that realization.

Here's how I've justified Brian Burke's three biggest transactions: as one massive, all-encompassing trade.

Jason Blake
Vesa Toskala
Matt Stajan
Ian White
Niklas Hagman
Jamal Mayers
2010 1st Round Pick
2010 2nd Round Pick
2011 1st Round Pick


Phil Kessel
Dion Phaneuf
J.S. Giguere
Fredrik Sjostrom
Keith Aulie

I know, that's a lot of draft picks going the other way. But you're used to that now. We're all used to that now. I'm also well aware, as you are, that the moves mean the Leafs have, other than Kessel, zero offence. And I'm OK with that. Because the problem for the better part of the last five years is that Toronto can't kill penalties, and can't keep the puck out of its own net. Burke will figure out a solution up front. That's what he's paid to do. If you don't have faith in him after he found a trader partner for the services -- and I use the term lightly -- of Toskala and Jason Blake, I'm afraid you never will.

In 24-year-old Phaneuf and 22-year-old Kessel, I can finally say the Toronto Maple Leafs have two young, established, and skilled players around which to build a team. Young being the key word. When was the last time you could make such a proclamation? Phaneuf is two seasons removed from Norris Trophy consideration. And, it bears repeating, still only 24. For once, for fucking once, the Leafs bought low.

It pains me to admit it, because only a true idiot would compare the Civil Rights Movement to the trivial world of professional sports, but when I heard Toskala had indeed been jettisoned out west, Martin Luther King's words echoed through my mind: "Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

One final word about Jason Blake, before I say my goodbyes. He was the whipping boy. From day one. And, truthfully, I'm not sure why that was the case. While I did my fair share of defending him, I found it difficult to do so this season. All the cool kids were slagging him. I was just trying to fit in. Now that he's a Duck, I can look fondly back on Blake's time in Toronto. While he didn't score as many goals as people would have liked, he performed. Early in his career, Blake played 82 games with the Los Angeles Kings, and registered 28 points, for a 0.34 point-per-game average. He then moved to Long Island, where he enjoyed fruitful seasons in hockey hell: 426 games, 258 points. A 0.60 point-per-game average. Finally, Toronto. The most productive stop during Jason Blake's career: 216 games, 141 points. A 0.65 point-per-game average. Blake may not have been worth the money to you, but based on his track record, he did what he was brought in to do. I'll miss the fist pumps.

I'll tell you this: it's not easy leaving the pro sports teams -- for this long, at least -- who routinely frustrate me and break my heart. It should be. But it isn't. Posting will be sparse around here, but I'll be dropping by. First things first, Aaron Hill will be replacing Roy Halladay in the Sports And The City banner. A logical choice. Thanks for voting. And, over the next few weeks, I plan to visit one of India's numerous internet cafes to watch Canada take care of business out in Vancouver. I'll be celebrating our nation's hockey triumph a world away, and plan to enjoy every second of it.

Here's what I'll miss most:
  • The Toronto Raptors' surge to the top of the Atlantic Division, led by Chris Bosh. The franchise will win its second playoff series while I'm gone. It's time. Believe in Bosh.
  • Interviews with Hedo Turkoglu.
  • Opening Day at the SkyDome. This one's tough; it's tradition. But I'll be there in spirit. Missing the first three months of baseball season might be the toughest of all. The silver lining: three fewer months of Cito Gaston. Win.
  • Ron Wilson being fired.
I've scheduled my return such that if the Boston Bruins do indeed select Taylor Hall with the Leafs' first overall selection, I'll be back in time to watch it happen. That'll surely get me back in the swing of things. My arrival back in Toronto also coincides with, hopefully, a date with Roy Halladay.

So, take care of yourself, eh? Remember: curve the bill of your hat, always support the home team, and never give up hope. Enjoy the rest of your winter, and the beautiful spring months. I'll be stopping by every now and then to holler "Playoffs!!1"

A brilliant and beautiful woman once told me words that certainly ring true today: "This isn't goodbye. It's see you later."