Friday, January 31, 2014

The Inigo Martinez Speculative Rip of the Week: Selemani Ndikumana

That's the most multicultural headline I've ever written.

Recently, Burundi played Mauritania in a matchup of countries that you might miss if you were taking Sporcle's Countries of the World quiz. The captain of this Burundish side is a man named Selemani Ndikumana, which I'm assuming is pronounced "Sell uh man ee En dick you man ah." Riveting stuff.

Like I said, he's the captain, and apparently a worthy one if he produces efforts like this. Don't be alarmed by the missile speeding across your screen at the beginning of the clip - it's just the ball going to its natural home. The whole clip is great - from the slow-mo replay of what looks to be a giant tennis ball rocketing into the upper corner to the uber slow-mo (and unnecessarily zoomed-in) replay of Ndikumana's teammates celebrating like college benchwarmers after a posterization.

Anyway, here's the rip. Speculative in nature, successful in results.

UPDATE: After some quick Google/Wikipedia sleuthing, I've determined that this was a BIG goal - a game-winning strike in the 4th minute of extra time that gave Burundi the victory in the group stage of the African Nations Championship - which I guess is different than the African Cup of Nations somehow.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sports Debate: What is and Isn't a Sport

Somebody get me those all-green baseball unis ASAP
These debates crop up from time to time. The term "sport" is a difficult one to define, and everyone has their own opinions on what does and does not count as a sport. For me, the definition of a sport is similar to the one that defines obscenity: It's hard to explain, but I know it when I see it.

Having said that, here's my attempt to define what constitutes a sport, in order of what I perceive will be least to most controversial. Using bullet points, of course.

At the bottom, you will also find a list of sports and non-sports as defined by me.

Right, let's get into it.

(Disclaimer: Just because I don't define something as a sport doesn't mean I'm degrading it. I just think the term "sport" needs to be more narrowly defined.)

What is required for a sport (according to me):

  • First off, video games are not sports. Despite things like the Madden Bowl and the Donkey Kong World Championships. 
  • A competition between two or more players needs to be occurring. So, like, playing solitaire is not a sport. 
  • You have to be doing something that is physically demanding or difficult. This doesn't mean that you should have to work up a sweat, but merely that physical attributes or skills need to be on display. This counts out things like board games. Sorry, chess. 
Here's where it gets tricky. In my mind, these things are true. You might take issue with them.
  • Sports have scores that are determined by the participants, not the judges. In my mind, this is a hard and fast rule, and defines all things like gymnastics, cheerleading, and figure skating as something other than sports. I'm not taking away anything from these activities, because they (and things like them) are clearly extremely demanding and take years of practice to master. I just don't think they're sports. 
  • Sports combine multiple elements of the physical spectrum. This excludes any form of race, where all you have to do is be better than someone at one thing (speed), or any strength competition, where you just have to be a stronger person than someone else. I know that the speed thing is a gross simplification, but I just don't think that something as simple as a race can be put into the same category as basketball or football.
OK, I think that's it. Hope you don't hate me. If you do, let me know in the comments and we can have a very civil discussion. Remember, I'm not very smart, and this was pretty much written in an hour. So feel free to disagree. 

My Big List of Sports and Non Sports, with Tiers Ranked from Most Sports to Least Sports

I don't love that look, Mario. Maybe skip over Tier 7.

Tier 1: Indisputably Sports

  • Basketball
  • Baseball/Softball
  • Hockey/Field Hockey
  • Football
  • Racket Sports (tennis, badminton, table tennis, etc)
  • Golf
  • Handball
  • Cricket
  • Rugby
  • Soccer
  • Lacrosse
  • Volleyball
  • Others I probably forgot/ don't know about - you get the general idea though

Tier 2: They Meet all the Qualifications, But For Some Reason I Still Don't Consider Them Sports

Tier 3: I Don't Think They're Sports, But if You Do, That's Not a Huge Issue for Me

  • Fighting (boxing, MMA, wrestling)
  • Swimming
  • Horse Racing
  • Running (For some reason I feel like relay races and long-distance races are more "sports" than sprints are, but I might be uneducated in the world of running)
  • Car racing that's not NASCAR (aka races where you have to do more than just turn left - street racing, F1, etc)
  • Any downhill race (bobsled, luge, skiing, snowboarding, etc
  • Shooting (archery, skeet, etc)
  • Speed skating
  • Cycling races
  • Darts

Tier 4: Hobbies That Are Judged by Hobby Enthusiasts. AKA: Not Sports

  • Gymnastics
  • Diving
  • Synchronized swimming/diving
  • Snowboard/ski/skateboard skills competition (vert, slopestyle, park, etc)
    • Full disclosure: I LOVE watching snowboard/skateboard competitions. I just think any judged activity is not a sport. Doesn't mean they're not awesome. 
  • Cheerleading
  • Figure skating
  • Horse jumping (Equestrian? I call it horse jumping)

Tier 5: How Far Can You Launch Yourself off a Ramp?

  • Ski jumping

Tier 6: If You're a NASCAR Fan, I'm Sorry, but NASCAR Just Isn't a Sport


Tier 7: Throwing Shit and Lifting Shit

  • Javelin
  • Shotput
  • Hammer throw
  • Strength competitions (weightlifting, strongman, etc)
And that's it! I think. Let me know if (when) you think I'm an idiot. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

2014 World Cup Preview: Group C

You can read previous previews here.


Group C: Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece (aka the "Superstars and Set Pieces" group)

Out of all the ridiculously intriguing groups in this World Cup, I'm most excited to watch the Group C games. If I was a full-time blogger, could work from home, or simply sat on my ass all day like a slob, I would make sure to watch every one of these games live. I'm really not that well-versed on the tactics, players, or playing style of Greece or Colombia, but then again, those might not even matter. It's the World Cup. Shit happens.

Prediction: Japan win group, Colombia 2nd. UPDATE: FALCAO IS OUT

New Prediction: Japan win group, Ivory Coast second. All further analysis of Colombia is null and void.


"WHAT?!" I hear you cry as you read this swashbuckling prediction. "There's no way he can actually believe that Japan will WIN this group, is there?? For the love of Godzilla, they're the fourth lowest-ranked team in the WHOLE TOURNAMENT!"

I hear you. I do. But let's work through this anger together. Crack open a Sapporo and let the sheer brilliance of the Japanese soccer machine wash over you.

There are three reasons why Japan will win this group. First, and most importantly, they have Keisuke Honda. He's easily the most dynamic player in this group, which includes the unearthly talents of Radamel Falcao and Didier Drogba. Don't believe me? Watch this.

If you're easily distracted, skip to 1:20. It's the goal in the thumbnail. That defines Rip City.

World Cup squads don't have months to train and play multiple matches together, like clubs do. They have about a month between the end of most European seasons and the start of the World Cup. That's not enough time to form complicated tactical plans, which is often why the superstars shine through on the world stage (the exception is Spain's team-based pass and move approach, which was honed at Barcelona, where roughly half the Spanish team plays).

With no time for tactics, two things win the day at the World Cup - individual skill and set pieces. Honda happens to have a monopoly on both.

The second reason Japan will win this group? They have a player who is BETTER than Keisuke Honda. Remember that guy up there with the goals? Yeah, he's nice. But (fun fact of the day alert!) the cog at the center of the midfield of the most famous club in the world will be playing alongside Honda with Japan. His name is Shinji Kagawa, he plays for Manchester United, he's 24, and he's DIRTY.

Notice anything different about these two videos? Honda's are goals, and Kagawa's are skills. And some goals, but mostly skills, passes, one-touch balls, and through balls. The kinds of things that can combine with and spring a goalscorer like Honda or Shinji Okazaki (scorer of 36 national-team goals). Superstars and set pieces win games in the World Cup, folks.

The third reason they'll come out tops of this group? The way they play. The Japanese always play, tight, intelligent, measured soccer. They (cliche alert!) work as a unit, defend in packs, and rarely get caught out of position. I can easily see them beating Greece and the Ivory Coast with this approach, and holding heavily favored Colombia to a draw.


Hey girl. Disregard the fact that I look like Pocahontas's dad.
There are two things I know about the Colombian national football team, other than the fact that they're from Colombia.

1. They are ranked fourth in the world according to FIFA. 
2. They have Radamel Falcao. 

FIFA world rankings are ridonkulously flawed, as they don't take into account things like goal differential, roster selection, and who had home field advantage. However, they're still rankings. And it's better to be ranked higher than lower. And there are only 3 teams ranked higher than Colombia.

Secondly, that guy up there is Radamel Falcao, and although he's built like a cross between a linebacker and a rhinocerous, he plays forward for Colombia. And, as you'd expect, he's a fucking monster.

Skip to :43 if you have no time and just want to see a cannon of a shot from Falcao's weaker foot. It's basically a fadeaway three-pointer with your opposite hand.

Colombia's World Cup hopes suffered a massive blow as the Rad Falcon (that's my new nickname for him) went down with a knee injury in January, but his doctors have given him a 55% chance of suiting up in Brazil. And that's good enough for me.

Like I said earlier, the importance of set pieces and superstars are magnified at World Cups, and I don't see anyone with the possible exception of the Ivory Coast having the size, speed, and skill in the back to contend with Falcao.

Also, Colombia borders Brazil. Words you will hear a lot of if you watch these group games: "climate," "travel," "adjustments," "crowd noise," "home field advantage," "fatigue," and "environment." Colombia has a huge geographical advantage. I still think Japan takes this group somehow, but that's a bold prediction, and the smart money is probably on Colombia. Sometimes I try to outsmart the money.

Ivory Coast.

God this group is going to be so fun to watch. Didier Drogba. Salomon Kalou. Yaya Toure. I'm beginning to rethink my predictions of this group. Ivory Coast has a talented core of extremely physical and athletic players that have been through the battles together. Plus they have Drogba, scorer of 62 international goals and whistleblower of several fucking disgraces:

For some reason, I see the Elephants (yeah, that's their nickname) dropping points to Japan and Colombia despite their more physical style of play. Japan plays a very controlled game and can strike on counters and set pieces, and Colombia's games will seem like they're being played in Bogota. Plus, the Ivorians have never been known for their patience, and I can see them getting a bit fed up and chippy, which never works out well in the World Cup.


Greece is an enigma to me. They came in second in their 6-team qualifying group, collecting the same amount of points as Bosnia-Herzegovina (25, when the next closest team had 13) but losing on goal differential (Greece was +8 while B-H was an astonishing +24). They're ranked 12th in the world, but they don't have anyone who jumps out at you as a star player. Forward Giorgios Samaras is perhaps their most famous player, and he has a whopping 8 goals in 70 international matches. Yowzers. I just feel that they'll be outlasted by the Japanese, outgunned by the Ivorians, and outworked by the Colombians.

Hunches on hunches in this group, I know. They were some bold picks, Cotton, let's see if they work out for me.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Backyard Baseball Draft

It's no secret that Backyard Baseball will go down as the greatest sports computer game of all time. It may, in fact, be in the conversation for the greatest computer game of all time, period. One example of this is the cultural longevity of the content of these games. If you talk to anyone (probably any dude, actually) between the ages of 16 and 30, and use nouns like "Steele Stadium," "Aluminum power," or, of course, "Pablo Sanchez," you'll likely be off on an hours-long discussion about this legendary game.

In one of our many talks about BYB (yup, that's the acronym), my friend Tim and I decided to hold a full-scale, two-team draft in order to determine who could create the most potent squad.

We used Backyard Baseball 2001 rosters, because they give the players' attributes out of 10, instead of out of 4 like the original game. But we didn't draft pros. Cuz that's dumb.

You can read about Tim's team on his blog Timbo Sliced. My team is as follows, in order of how I drafted them. Batting order at the bottom.

I'm also giving them superlatives. Bitches love superlatives.

Round 1 (pick 2 overall): Kiesha Phillips - RF

Batting: 9 Running: 9 Pitching: 4 Defense: 6

This girl can flat out rake. After Tim took Pablo first (duh), there were a few ways I could have gone with this pick. Truth be told, Achmed Khan was always my favorite player in the game, and Pete Wheeler's speed is frankly terrifying, but I couldn't pass up Kiesha's combination of power ("just raw power"), speed, and overall intimidation factor. She's friendly, but don't get in her way if she's barrelling towards home plate.

Superlative: Best Ear-To-Ear Grin

Round 2 (4): Pete Wheeler - CF

8, 10, 2, 7

Frankly, I'm surprised Petey fell to fourth. I think I psyched Tim out by talking a big game about how Achmed was my favorite player, which may have pushed him into taking Achmed a round too early. You could make the argument that Pete is a first overall pick, especially in the 2001 version where he's essentially guaranteed to get on base. Kid can rip gap shots on the reg, stretch a double to a triple, and drop a bunt down for a hit whenever he pleases. Plus he's a franchise-caliber center fielder.

Superlative: Goofiest

Round 3 (6): Mikey Thomas - C

10, 4, 4, 7

Through years of accumulated experience, I have created a tier system in my head for the BYB players. The top tier consists of the first four picks in this draft (Pablo, Kiesha, Achmed, Pete). Then there's a tier that's just a tick below that top one. This is a one-player tier, and it consists of this man right here, Mikey Thomas. Like Teddy Roosevelt with a permanent head cold, Mikey speaks softly and carries a big stick. His bat sometimes seems too long for his roly-poly frame, but when he whips that thing through the hitting zone, he can go bridge with the best of them. He's also slow as fuck, but decent at defense. Thus, he's my left-handed catcher (it's Little League, these things happen).

Superlative: Most Nurse's Office Visits

Round 4 (8): Luanne Lui - P

6, 10, 9, 4

This was my first reach pick. While there were some better offensive talents left, I figured that there aren't a lot of pitchers in this game, and there are really only two players who are great pitchers and also bring another skill to the table: Luanne and Angela Delvecchio. Angela's hitting is an 8, while Luanne's speed is a ridiculous 10. I chose to go with a speed demon pitcher on the order of Clay Buchholz, who can bring a baserunning threat to the bottom of the lineup.

Superlative: Owner of the Snuggliest Teddy Bear

Round 5 (10): Jocinda Smith - 3B

10, 5, 3, 8

I really don't understand what Tim was doing drafting Ernie Steele ahead of Jocinda here. Yes, he's a rangy third baseman with a heart of gold, but this is war. While Tim stocked up on defense with the likes of Ernie and Stephanie Morgan, I was pulling absolute mashers off the pile. Jocinda's nickname is "M.V.P." with good reason. Moonshots all day from this girl. Not to mention she can pick it at the hot corner.

Superlative: Onionest-Shaped Head

Round 6 (12): Dmitri Petrovich - 1B

8, 7, 1, 3

If you couldn't tell by now, my team lives and dies by the long ball. Yes, I have some speedy players, but they're just there to set the table. I want home run power up and down my lineup, and Dmitri brings that with his potato-shaped frame. He's got the weirdest swing in the game, as he prefers to forego the traditional "squash the bug" foot action in favor of hopping into the air while swinging like some kind of fancy boy. But he's the smartest player in the league, so I'm sure there's a reason for this oddity. Plus, his sabermetrics game is probably on point.

Superlative: Second-Largest Glasses to Face Ratio

Round 7 (14): Sally Dobbs - SS

7, 7, 7, 7

You can't get more consistent than this lady. She can play any position on the field and does everything at an above-average level. I put her at shortstop, but she's got the talent for anything. Want a lanky right-handed reliever? You got it. How about a long-striding left fielder? No problem. Need somebody at first to stretch out for those wild throws? Put her in coach, she's ready to play.* Also, if you look at her head, she looks like two footballs in the shape of a cross. Her face is one and her hair is another one, but sideways. That's gotta count for something.

Superlative: Best Double Football Head

Round 8 (16): Vicki Kawaguchi - LF

1, 9, 5, 10

Bunts. That's all we're doing here. It's not a secret, but it's mighty hard to defend when this little ballerina is dropping squeezes down the third base line with ease. She's fast ("stupid fast") and her defense is stellar. Stick her in a corner outfield spot and cue up the Sportscenter Top 10, cuz she's making some highlight-reel plays out there.

Superlative: Most Precarious Hat

Round 9 (18): Billy Jean Blackwood - 2B

8, 6, 4, 4

I never used to draft her, but we were kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel, talent-wise. And honestly, she can be a threat to poke a few out with her 8 at hitting. Combined with a decent 6 in the running department, and she's not a bad pickup to round out my starting 9.

Superlative: Name That Most Sounds Like a Veiled Implication That Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" Was Not Only Not His Lover, But In Fact A Dude (AKA the "It's a man, baby" Award)


After the starting 9 was assembled, we just decided to keep on drafting. Here are my bench players in the order of their pickage. Also, somehow we forgot Dante Robinson, so he didn't get drafted. Whoops. The world needs ditch-diggers too, I guess.

Round 10 (20): Tony Delvecchio

7, 6, 3, 7

Tony's not good enough to crack the starting nine, but he's definitely decent enough to be a replacement-level utility man. A 7 at defense means you can slot him in anywhere. His only downside is his attitude - he's moody and a troublemaker (let's not forget that time he got busted selling stolen cookies to an undercover teacher), but hopefully the buoyant spirits of Kiesha, Billy Jean, and the gang can perk him up.

Superlative: Most Likely to Spit in the Other Team's Gatorade

Round 11 (22): Kenny Kawaguchi

3, 8, 7, 4

I always had Kenny pitch in the original computer game version, and there's no reason he can't do that now. He's got great speed and a terrific right hook, so he projects as my long reliever.

Superlative: Best "Cat Daddy"

Round 12 (24): Sidney Webber

5, 7, 6, 3

Sidney's a very average player. I wanted one of the Webber twins because their attributes go up when they play together, so I didn't want Tim to have both of them. She won't see the field a lot, but let's be honest, she's not on the team for her skills. She's on the team cuz she's a stone cold fox.

Superlative: Most Attractive

Round 13 (26): Lisa Crockett

5, 8, 4, 4

Yeesh. From Miss America to Diss Gusting. Lisa's got a serious case of the quicks, as her 8 running attribute will make her a valuable pinch runner. And she might scare some of the other team members with her colossal chin. So that's something.

Superlative: Largest Glasses-to-Face Ratio

Round 14 (28): Ricky Johnson

1, 8, 5, 5

Ricky's... um... fast? Yeah. He's fast. So that's good. Jesus Christ, though, like how can you even be a 1 at batting? You know who's a 1 at batting? Vicki Kawaguchi. The teeny tiny ballerina who's about 4 foot nothing. Ricky is a burly dude with a shorn dome. He should be anchoring lineups, but through some genetic mix-up, the kid couldn't hit a douchebag if he was backstage at a Nickelback concert.

Superlative: Most Outrageus Neck-to-Head Ratio


Pete Wheeler - CF
Luanne Lui - P
Kiesha Phillips - RF
Mikey Thomas - C
Jocinda Smith - 3B
Sally Dobbs - SS
Dmitri Petrovich - 1B
Vicki Kawaguchi - LF
Billy Jean Blackwood - 2B


Tony Delvecchio - Utility
Kenny Kawaguchi - RP/Pinch runner
Sidney Webber - Eye Candy
Lisa Crockett - Pinch runner
Ricky Johnson - "Special" Pinch runner

*For the record, that John Fogerty reference was California wild fire flames

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Speculative Rip of 2013: Rene Steer

Since (re)starting this feature on August 23rd with Juventus's Paul Pogba, we've seen some downright pulverizing finishes. I've posted nine Speculative Rips of the Week since that first one, obviously showing that my grasp on the meaning of the word "week" is shaky at best. You can view all ten here.

The question now becomes: Of these ten, which is best.

Like most simple questions, the answer is complicated. Let's rewind.

It all must have started when I was around eight or nine years old, playing in my fir---

Nah, just fuckin' with ya. Which one's the best? How about the one that rips the hardest. Without further ado, the 23-year-old left back of St. Neots Town, an English seventh-division side, brings you the most bodacious dollop of rip sauce served up in the year of Our Lord 2013, thanks be to God.

Rene Steer, take it away.

(Oh yeah, play this song while watching for maximum enjoyment).

Friday, January 3, 2014

2014 World Cup Preview: Group B

Read my Group A predictions here, and my World Cup Draw "Deathiness" rankings here.

Possibly the greatest national team ever assembled
Group B: Spain, Chile, Australia, Netherlands

I just did at least a half hour of research, and I can definitively conclude, thanks to Wikipedia, that this is the first time that the finalists from the previous World Cup are in a group together. The United States can rightfully be disappointed with the talent level in their group, but Australia must be absolutely devastated.

Prediction: Spain win group, Chile 2nd. 

Not much to say about Spain. Their one-touch passing game is orgasmic (see above). They've won three of the last four major international tournaments in which they were entered, including the 2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup, and 2012 Euro. In the process, they became the first nation to win back-to-back European Championships and the first to win three straight international tournaments.

But, you might be wondering, if they've won so much since 2008, don't they have to be getting kind of old? 

Kinda. But all their old players are incredible.

Their keepers are all 31 or 32. That's fine, they're keepers. Besides defensive stalwart Carles Puyol (35), their oldest defender is 31. Besides midfield maestros Xavi and Xabi Alonso (33 and 32), their oldest midfielder is 29. Besides prolific goalscorer David Villa (32), their oldest forward is 29.

Their tiki-taka style will see them through this group in style. Australia will be a walkover, Chile don't have the defensive prowess to hold Spain down, and I'm predicting the downfall of the Dutch.


Dramatization of Chile's fans coming to Brazil.
I have a good feeling about the Chileans. I don't have any real data to back this feeling up. It's what the experts call a hunch. I just think that all too often, the World Cup group stage gets away from a team in the first game and momentum, good or bad, can snowball into the next two games. Chile gets Australia in the first match, allowing them to bring some positive vibes into a match against the defending champs.

My prediction that Chile will take second in this group is powered essentially by the idea that some of these games will be home games for the Chileans. All of their matches are in southern Brazil, close to their home nation. They made it to the round of 16 in 2010, and I envision a home continent repeat of this feat, powered by gobs of goals from Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez and a surprise appearance from the aging legend Humberto Suazo.


"I'm... so.... old..."
The Netherlands topped their group in qualifying. This group was made up of powerhouses such as Andorra, Estonia, and Hungary. Real strong teams. They've also recently played friendlies against such notable world powers as Indonesia and China, two Asian sides sure to strike fear into the heart of any football fan.

Basically, they haven't played anyone good in a competitive match in forever. Two recent friendlies against Japan and Colombia produced draws, disappointing results in that both matches were essentially at home (the Japan game was played in Belgium - kind of like if the Red Sox played the Padres in Providence).

Their top players are getting up there in age (though the grandfatherly Arjen Robben is still only 29), and no European team has ever won a World Cup in the Americas. Top forward Robin Van Persie has been out with a groin injury since early December, and groin injuries are notorious for niggling. I'm thinking a collapse is in order as the pale Dutchmen fail to fly. 


"Join me in death."

I feel bad for Australia. Really, I do. Apparently it's a great country. Good reefs. Awesome accents. Hot girls. Killer shark attacks. However, the one thing that the ol' prison colony doesn't have is a competitive soccer team.

Australia is the lowest-ranked team in the World Cup according to FIFA's notoriously flawed ranking system, and they've been chucked into the fire like so many shrimp onto the proverbial barbie. Rest in peace, Socceroos. Consider a goal a celebratory event, and a draw a win.