Thursday, June 14, 2012

30 (+7) for 30

What if I told you a documentary series could capture the attention of college-aged males across the country? You would probably think I’m nuts, or that it was about the Playboy Mansion or something like that. But what if I told you it was about the last thirty years of sport?

You would probably punch me in the face for asking all these rhetorical questions. But that’s what Bill Simmons and ESPN did during 2010-11. To celebrate ESPN’s thirtieth anniversary they made 30 documentaries exploring all kinds of sports stories from the last 30 years.

30 for 30, as it is called, was awesome. In some cases the documentaries deepened my understanding of stuff I saw as a kid or a teenager or adult. In others, they introduced me to athletes, games, and phenomena I had never even known existed. The series was a smashing success with critics as well and ESPN continued to put out documentaries in the same vein after the series ended (see the excellent story of Michigan’s Fab Five). Last month however, Simmons announced that a whole ‘nother round (including 10-15 minute shorts to compliment the 1-2 hour features) was on its way soon.

I, for one, am tickled pink maize and blue. So, in honor of the next 30 for 30, and in case the topic list is not yet finalized, let me be so bold as to suggest a few ideas:

The State of Hockey
It was once said that only and idiot could lose money on hockey in Minnesota. The US Hockey Hall of Fame is in Eveleth. Half the 1980 Miracle on Ice team hailed from the Gopher State. Upon its return to the L’Etoile du Nord the NHL sold out 400 consecutive games. In 2004 The Xcel Energy Center set an attendance record at the NHL All Star Game. In 2007, they broke it at a college hockey game. Those numbers got upped again in 2008 and 2012 only this time it wasn’t the pros or college – it was HIGH SCHOOL hockey. So how did Norm Green (both author and subject of the opening quote as well as the final owner/executioner of the Minnesota North Stars) screw it all up? This documentary tells the story of how one of the best nicknames in sports was moved south and how the State of Hockey (and the NHL) recovered.

The Two Towers
Women’s sports at the collegiate level owes its existence to Title IX.* Women’s sports as remotely marketable, televisable spectacle owes itself to Pat Summit and Geno Auriemma. These two titans took their respective programs at Tennessee and UConn to heights not dreamed of since the days of John Wooden. These coaches built more than dynasties: they built an entire sport up from nothing. What makes them successful? What makes them tick? And why don’t they get along? Tune in to find out.

*Which was signed into law by Richard Nixon. Just interesting to think about.

Turning Back the Clock: Camden Yards Launches a Retro Craze
What if I told you that a ballpark was an experience in and of itself? In the late 80’s and early 90’s baseball emerged from an era of multi-use, concrete doughnuts and led an aesthetic revolution that transformed American sporting facilities. Camden Yards in Baltimore was the first of a new breed of ballparks as destinations; it changed how we build stadiums and gave us a new generation of fields meant to compliment Wrigley, Fenway, and many other bygone jewels. Jimmy Buffet, himself a perfect living capsule of America’s corporate ethos *, said it best “we don’t have big ole Gothic cathedrals like they do in Europe. But we got baseball parks.”

*I once asked my roommate if Jimmy’s song “Christmas in the Caribbean” made him worry that the son of a son of a sailor was selling out. Kjell shrewdly pointed out that “when have you ever not been able to accuse Jimmy Buffet of selling out?”

Full Steam Ahead: Norfolk Admirals 28 Game Regular Season Win Streak
What if I told you the best hockey team in North America wasn’t in Detroit or Boston or Vancouver. What if I told you it wasn’t even in the NHL? A team can catch fire whenever, wherever. And in 2012 it was Norfolk Admirals of the AHL who reeled off a record 28 regular season wins in a row, shattering the 1993 Pittsburgh Penguins’ NHL-best mark of 17.

Coming to America: Dice-K
Plenty of baseball players have made the trek across the Pacific from Japan and met with success: Hideo Nomo and his tornado windup took a league by storm, Alfonso Soriano* succeeded under New York’s bright lights and was traded for the best player of his generation, and Ichiro has built a solid case for the Hall of Fame in Seattle (along with enough notoriety to be known by his first name only). The arrival of Daisuke Matsuzaka, however, was unprecedented. Fresh off a dominating run in the inaugural World Baseball Classic and armed with a never-before-seen pitch dubbed the “gyroball,” Dice-K commanded a then record $50 million posting fee** in 2006. After a promising first two years with the Boston Red Sox, Matsuzaka has been oft-injured and otherwise ineffective. This documentary explores how the posting system** works and the challenged faced by Dice-K and players like him as they try to make the leap.
Ideally, this one would be narrated by Neil Diamond.

*If you’re saying to yourself: “funny, he doesn’t look druish Japanese.” Good job! Alfonso Soriano is, in fact, not Japanese. Nevertheless, he played several years in Nippon Professional Baseball and came over to the majors via the posting system**.

**I suppose I should explain the posting system. In order to talk to players under control of NPB teams, MLB teams submit bids to their NPB counterpart for the rights to negotiate with a player. The NPB team then receives the posting fee and the MLB team is free to work out a contract with the player in question. If they can’t come to an agreement, the player returns to the NPB team and that team also keeps the posting fee.

Fixed: Scandal in Italian Soccer*
Italians and soccer. If they’re not wearing too much cologne and flopping to draw penalties, then they’re fixing matches. How did a “Black Sox”-level scandal emerge in 2006 (and resurface last year), implicating some of the biggest teams in Italian and world soccer and how did the sport clean it up? Did the sport clean it up? This sounds like a job for Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

*To placate Simmons, we could do a double feature looking at the infamous Game 6 between Chris Webber’s Sacramento Kings and the Shaq-Kobe Lakers in 2002.

Baseball contraction
Maybe it’s the three cases of Grain Belt I bought Sunday, but I’m in a Minnesota state of mind here. In November 2001, just days after the Diamondbacks walked off against the New York Yankees in a thrilling World Series Game 7 the owners voted 28-2 in favor of contracting two major league baseball franchises (this despite adding two teams just 3 – THREE!!! – years prior). Of course, one of those teams was slated to be the Minnesota Twins. After various courts forced baseball to honor its 2002 agreement to play in the Metrodome, the Twins, who had been on death row only months earlier, won the division and made it all the way to the ALCS. This documentary explores that tumultuous offseason, the roller coaster ride to the cusp of the World Series, and the relationship between Twins Owner Carl Pohlad and MLB Comish Bud Selig. If nothing else, you have to hand it to ole Allan H. Target Field, the Twins’ new stadium opened in 2010.

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