The Warning Track: Why 2016 Would Be A Great Year To Start Watching Baseball

This column originally appeared in the Daily Lobo, the independent student newspaper at the University of New Mexico, and can be viewed here.

Major League Baseball is in somewhat of a transitional phase the likes of which neither the sport, nor its fans, have never really seen before. It’s not experiencing an existential crisis, per se, but the sport has devoted much attention and resources towards tailoring a very traditional game for a younger generation.

The modern sports fan tends to prefer the fast and furious of the NBA and NFL over the more easy-going nature of our national pastime. That’s not a bad thing, but the overused cliché that “baseball is boring/too slow/just not that exciting,” will just make the lifelong baseball fan roll their eyes.

It doesn’t have to be any of those things, though, and most people who say baseball fits any combination of those three might not have taken the time to actually sit through a game.
As it turns out, the 2016 season might be the perfect time to do just that – give the sport a try.

You don’t have to fight the urge of resisting the sport any more. And with pitchers and catchers from most major league ballclubs reporting for Spring Training duty on Friday, you’re only going to hear about it more and more as Opening Day (which has as much a right as the Monday after the Super Bowl to be a national holiday) gets ever close on April 4.

At the very least, the boys of summer will keep you occupied until the boys of fall hit the gridiron once more.

Here are just some of the big reasons why this upcoming 2016 season is a great one to start watching the sport.

Parity Parade
Baseball’s “final four” of the 2015 postseason field – the Cubs, Mets, Royals and Blue Jays – had a whopping zero World Series Championships, collectively, this century. Their respective droughts added up to 188 seasons, until the Royals ended theirs by beating the Mets.

That that relatively inexperienced group of organizations was in the running to win it all in late October is no fluke; for the past few years they and other teams have rebuilt themselves to challenge perennial contenders like the Yankees, Giants and Cardinals. It amounts to an incredible level of parity in the sport, one in which fans would be reluctant to say who is going to make it all the way.

It could be the mega-hyped young Cubs, trying to end one of the most infamous and mocked droughts in all of sports. It could be the Astros, who last year shook off the label of division cellar-dwellers to reach October and look poised to go a step further. It could also be the Mariners, who have vastly underachieved the last few years. It could even be the Giants, vying for their fourth championship in seven years.

The point is, save for a couple organizations in rebuild mode, the postseason field tough to predict, between the established contenders and the teams trying to make a name for themselves as underdogs. It will make for an exciting season, but even more importantly, an unexpected one.

Now Batting: The Kids

Just as baseball is achieving a level of parity rarely seen historically in the sport, so too is there an unprecedented amount of young talent that has taken the league by storm.

Players like Carlos Correa (21 years old), Kris Bryant (24) and reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper (23) have started to hog the spotlight, and for good reason. With veterans like Albert Pujols (36), Alex Rodriguez (40) and David Ortiz (40) all playing in the twilight of their careers, the torch has been figuratively handed off to the young guns who have a big role to play in ushering in a new era.

And don’t forget about Mike Trout (24), either. Arguably the face of major league baseball ever since Derek Jeter’s retirement in 2014, he’s finished in the top 2 in American League MVP voting in each of his four full seasons. Any perfectly competent baseball fan could agree he’s already an all-time great.

Byron Buxton, touted prospect for the Twins, will be the next young star to make waves in the major leagues this year.

Byron Buxton, touted prospect for the Twins, will be the next young star to make waves in the major leagues this year.

Relishing the DH Rules While We Still Can

MLB stands out from the other “big four” American sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL) in that there is a stark difference between how American League and National League games strategize, due to the designated hitter rules in the AL.

Essentially, in the National League there must be a pitcher’s spot in the lineup, while the AL has a “designated hitter” to occupy that spot. The result is two leagues with distinct personalities – one with more offensive fireworks and one that prides itself on being essentially a chessmatch in terms of making decisions with pitchers.

It’s a fun dichotomy to experience, but it might not be around for much longer. Due to the recent increase in pitchers suffering long-term injuries at the plate, there is now, for the first time, very real consideration to employ the DH in both leagues.

Traditionalists of the game sigh at the thought of such a change, which could be implemented as early as 2017. For that reason, the person on the fence about baseball should take it upon themselves to experience the way the game has been played for virtually its entire history before the changes (may) take place.

Vin Scully’s Final Ride

Vin Scully, lone wolf broadcaster for the Los Angeles Dodgers since 1950, is as much a baseball icon as Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson or Pete Rose.

From his ability to interweave personal anecdotes seamlessly into the game to staying insightful and reactive well into his 80s, to his catalogue of memorable calls at historic moments (see: Hank Aaron hits No. 715), Scully is a pure national treasure.

Which is why the baseball world shed a collective tear when he announced that his upcoming, unprecedented 67th season would be his final one. If there is just one reason to tune in to the sport for the first time in 2016, it’s to marvel and appreciate Scully’s magic behind the mic, and to experience his final year that marks the end of an era.

Thanks for reading!

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The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a fairly consistent basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest conundrum. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

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Review: Deadpool delivers on the hype without sacrificing substance

This review first appeared in the Daily Lobo, the independent student newspaper of the University of New Mexico. You can see the original review here

It’s almost a farce in itself, getting settled in to watch Deadpool as trailers for upcoming superhero flicks like Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War play, when we feel like we’ve seen those particular movies a dozen times already.

Rest assured that Deadpool is the freshest Marvel entry since Guardians of the Galaxy, combining the best elements of successful superhero films with the creative freedom of an R-rating and a passion to bring the spirit of Deadpool to the screen…for real this time.

The result is a thoroughly entertaining film that, while it grasps its title character’s unique nature by the horns, it doesn’t go overboard with it.

That, in particular, is a pleasant surprise and one of Deadpool’s biggest strengths. While the film was hyped for taking a popular superhero adaptation to uncharted territory in terms of debauchery and raunchiness, Ryan Reynolds and director Tim Miller realized that they shouldn’t sacrifice substance for the sake of shock value.

deadpool 2

After all, to a degree rarely seen in the superhero genre, the character of Deadpool is just as much a part of the spectacle as the action is, perhaps even more so.

Make no mistake, the film is definitively a hard R, with enough blood, sex and profanity to make Captain America blush. But in making Deadpool as unapologetically faithful to its audience as it is to the source material, the film also has a heart that raises it a notch or two above what most were probably expecting of it. 

Ryan Reynolds truly is born for the part of the merc with a mouth, bringing not only Deadpool’s twisted sense of humor and relentlessness (his motto being “Maximum Effort”) to the screen, but also infusing him with a sentimentality that gives unexpected weight and stakes to the action and story.

Deadpool is also structured in a way that is very appealing, essentially an origin story told via flashbacks. It helps a lot with pacing, and gives the film a certain energy and flow that persists even through its few slower sequences early on.

The story is decidedly small-scale compared to other superhero films, but it’s also in essence a very personal story of revenge and, yes, love that it feels ok. Deadpool himself certainly is larger than life, and that is more than enough, especially with the knowledge that a script for a sequel is already being worked on.

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Aside from the gritty action, the humor is also top-notch. The script is so well written to accommodate both sides of Deadpool’s personality, but his fourth-wall breaking, Wolverine-bashing, mercilessly-chastising side is what audiences pay to see, and Reynolds delivers every line with the perfect blend of sarcasm and wit.

There’s also some pretty funny moments with the introductions of X-Men Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and T.J. Miller effectively goes toe-to-toe with Wade Wilson as his pal Weasel.

It’s as much a testament to the focused direction as it is the passion imbued in the final product by its cast and crew that Deadpool manages to deliver so successfully everything it was hyped to be. In the process, it also surprises its audience by reminding us that its creators had every intention of giving us a film that has as much heart and story as it has style.

If only younger fans could use that as an excuse for their parents to take them.

In a Nutshell

Deadpool makes fun of the cinematic universe it’s now a part of not only through its mockery of it, but in its personality that takes so many risks and exceeds at pulling off what so many thought might never happen. Hollywood might try and adapt its formula, but Deadpool stands on its own as a true beast of a film, as much about the passion of bringing it to life as it is about embracing its mature nature.

8.9 / 10

 

 

Deadpool is rated R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity 

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller

Directed by Tim Miller

2016

Small business owners fear Rapid Transit system will kill businesses

This story originally appeared in the Daily Lobo on February 15, 2015, and can be viewed here

Now that nearly $70 million in federal funding has been approved for Mayor Richard Berry’s passion project, it’s full steam ahead on a new bus rapid transit system that will run down Central Avenue from Unser to Tramway Boulevard.

However, many small business owners along the proposed route believe the Albuquerque Rapid Transit, or ART, spells an end to their shops, as well as the quirky personality of the Nob Hill area in particular.

“I’m thankful for living in a country where I don’t go to jail for fighting my government, but on the other hand, I shouldn’t have to fight my government. So that’s what we’re doing…because they’re not listening to us,” said Steve Schroeder, owner of Nob Hill Music.

Joe Annabi, manager of Astro-Zombies comic book store on Central — one of many businesses sporting a “No Albuquerque Rapid Transit” banner — said local politicians have downplayed the side effects of ART, including higher traffic congestion along the corridor, and are now denying the possibility of consequences from the new system.

“They care about having a lasting legacy in their final run in office,” Annabi said. “It’s going to be … a big drain on the city. Local business should be a part of local culture and should be on the minds of all politicians, but it’s not.”

Berry, who at a Friday press conference said ART is awaiting approval from the FTA, said the project has been in the works for five years and it could ultimately bring in $2 to 3 billion.

On a larger scale, Berry said the $119 million project is, in essence, the culmination of his transportation agenda, which included keeping Uber in Albuquerque and increasing bike trails.

“We’re talking about the next logical step,” he said, adding that it will be the gold standard for bus rapid transit in the country.

Pending FTA approval, construction will start in May, with plans to finish in late 2017. But many along the route are pessimistic that their business will survive that long.

Susan Ricker’s Off Broadway Vintage Clothing and Costumes has been in business for 32 years, and despite overcoming a fire in 2000, she said ART is the biggest threat her store has seen.

“I really don’t think they want (car) traffic on Central anymore, which goes against the beauty of Route 66,” she said.

Ricker said there is nothing quite like the Nob Hill portion of Route 66, which is traditionally renowned as a car corridor. She said she believes the project is built on ego, an attempt by Berry to secure his legacy before he leaves office, regardless of the opinions held by those whom ART will affect most.

“It’s obvious…we really don’t have a voice. Our voice doesn’t matter,” she said.

In fact, she said, the vast majority of business owners she has talked to share her sentiments, save for a mere pair who are in favor.

Schroeder’s experience was similar, as he said out of over 200 businesses he has talked to, only six are pro-ART.

After finding out many other businesses owners shared his opinion of ART, he formed savert66.org, where visitors can find updates about the project and a letter of petition to sign.

Schroeder said he believes ART would affect the integrity of the area, as well as tourism to the longest stretch of Route 66 in the country.

He said recently-elected City Councilor Pat Davis arranged meetings for public input, only to refrain from asking small business owners a single question.

“Pretty consistently the city has been lying in every place. But we’re a very small entity and we don’t have money, so we can’t broadcast like the mayor can,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder said the city is rushing the project, likening the mayor’s attitude regarding ART to the rhetoric surrounding the Titanic.

“They said ‘I’ve got an unsinkable ship.’ Well that’s the same with Captain Berry and the USS City of Albuquerque. He wants to get there in a hurry and he’s not paying attention,” he said. “There are just so many unanswered questions.”

Schroeder said he expects to be out of business before ART is completed.

Not all Nob Hill businesses are hesitant about ART. At Berry’s press conference, O’Niell’s Restaurant owner Robert Munro said new amenities, including better landscaping and wider sidewalks, will help pedestrianism in the area.

“I’m excited for this project, especially in Nob Hill (where) we have grand opportunities that ART is going to help us with,” he said.

David Silverman of Geltmore, LLC said ART is just the first part of a long-term plan for the area.

“We have a great opportunity in this community to plan for the future,” Silverman said. “A lot of other cities have gone this direction, and they’ve experienced much success because of it.”

Berry said one lane will always be open during construction.

According to route renderings on brtabq.com, ART will take Central down to one lane in each direction from just west of Bryn Mawr Drive to San Mateo Boulevard. From University Boulevard to that point west of Bryn Mawr, Central will be two lanes.

Annabi said although he is all for public transit, he has yet to receive answers justifying ART.

He said he doesn’t see how ART is going to be a substantial improvement over the two current systems — Rapid Ride and the city bus. He said remarks made about ART’s efficacy reminded him of the things being said about the Rapid Ride.

“I don’t know what the difference is other than they’re going to make this into a less functional road,” he said. “Reducing it from two to one lane in each direction is going to be a huge killer for the usability of this road.”

He said he is worried about the visibility of businesses, but also the space in the area that is needed for popular events like the Twinkle Light Parade and Summerfest.

The city raised signs along Central marking likely spots of future ART stations almost immediately after federal funding was approved.

Annabi said he believes that to be suspicious, and that the installations served as an omen for what it will be like to commute Central alongside a completed ART.

David Lynch is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at managingeditor@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

Review: Hail, Caesar! is a hilarious, passionate ode to classic cinema

This review was originally published in the Daily Lobo, the independent student newspaper of the University of New Mexico, and can be found here

Early on in Hail, Caesar!, the latest effort from Joel and Ethan Coen, Josh Brolin’s character Eddie Mannix describes the work being put into the titular film-within-a-film as passionate. “It’s never been told with this kind of distinction and panache,” he says.

That’s how it goes with Hail, Caesar!, part period-centric mystery, part love letter to not just classic Hollywood, but Hollywood of any era.

Eddie Mannix is in charge of keeping order at Capitol Pictures Studios, and that’s easier said than done, what with his task of having to deal with incompetent actors, unsatisfied directors and vulture-like journalists. He has even more to juggle when his A-list movie star and leading man of Hail, Caesar: A Tale of Christ’s Life, Baird Whitlock, goes missing.

Hail, Caesar! is decidedly lighthearted fare, not as heavy as Burn After Reading, for example, but just as hilarious. Observing the dichotomy between the intricacies of classic filmmaking and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans is both fascinating and hilarious.

The Coens continue to fuse comedy and suspense like it’s peanut butter and jelly; apart they’re satisfying but when fused it’s one of a kind. Most directors effort at bringing Hail, Caesar! would result in a whiplash-y experience, but the Coens know better than most how to seamlessly blend lighter tones with shades of noir.

clooney hail

Because of its setup and structure Hail, Caesar! feels like several movies woven into one. Normally that would be a criticism, but here it’s a treat to watch scenes and sequences from fictional movies that have a legitimate classical vibe and feel to them. The music, performances and cinematography all have a part to play in the various odes to 1950s cinema; even the mystery surrounding Whitlock – which isn’t as big a part of the film as a whole as the trailers may suggest – has the feel of a Capitol Studios Production.

At times the aesthetic is so appealing and inviting that the first thing the audience might do when they leave the theaters is find out where they can find movies from the era. That, or they’ll think to themselves they have absolutely zero interest in involving themselves in the film business.

As is a staple in works by the Coen brothers, Hail, Caesar! boasts an ensemble so uniformly perfect that it’s hard to imagine better suitors for individual characters, whether major or minor. From Brolin (Everest, Sicario, Inherent Vice) to Channing Tatum (The Hateful Eight, Magic Mike, 21 Jump Street) to Tilda Swinton (Trainwreck, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Snowpiercer), each gleefully realizes the restrained hyperbole of the Coens’ script and seems right at home within the time period and its personality.

Besides being thoroughly entertaining – despite a third act that may leave some to be desired – Hail, Caesar! does a suitably nuanced job examining the film industry and what it represents. Part of the hilarity is observing the different perceptions of its current ‘50s state, and what it may become in the future. And the way these different perception present themselves isn’t constrained to the time period; they could apply to the Hollywood of today as well.

tatum hail

The Coens are never one to succumb to predictable story arches, and Hail, Caesar! is not their first exception. While it may seem straightforward at times, the script throws the audience for several loops with its characters, in ways often hilarious and paradoxical.

It sounds like a rough gamble, but the Coens make it work. Hail, Caesar! may not necessarily be their most thought-provoking work or their most memorable – a testament to their varied catalogue – but one gets the sense that if they know they have left the audience awed by the majesty of 1950s cinema, then they’ve done their job.

In a Nutshell

Boasting a hilarious script, magnetic art direction and an ensemble that shines, Hail, Caesar! another fine offering from the brothers Coen.

8 / 10

 

 

Hail, Caesar! is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and smoking

Starring: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

2016

 

Review: Room is a difficult but moving study of humanity

This review originally appeared in the Daily Lobo, UNM’s independent student newspaper.  

Room is a painful film to watch, an experience provided very deliberately by director by director Lenny Abrahamson. One gets the sense that it should get easier to endure as it progresses, only to realize by the credits roll that an all-around happy ending to this kind of story would be the stuff of fantasy.

Instead, Room strives to speak to something more, because there is only so much sentimentality that can predictably be lent to a story that beings with a women and her son living in a space barely bigger than a bathroom.

The film’s haunting spirit is driven by a pair of incredibly memorable and powerful performances by Brie Larson (21 Jump Street, The Spectacular Now) and Jacob Tremblay (The Smurfs 2, Gord’s Brother). 9-year-old Tremblay in particular is an absolute force as Jack, who has a certain naiveté that lingers throughout the film longer than anyone expects. He pulls Room, and the audience, in a direction that tests our emotional limits.

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in "Room." (Ruth Hurl/Element Pictures)

Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay star in “Room.” (Ruth Hurl/Element Pictures)

Based on the popular novel of the same name, Room tells the story of an abducted women held in a tiny enclosed space with her son Jack –the whole world he knows being the titular room he lives in – and the experiences and internal conflicts they must endure when they finally escape.

There’s a fascinating story-within-a-story to Room, one which portrays the contrasts between how Jack and his mom deal with experiencing the outside world for the first time in seven years, in ways that make the audience ponder the complexities of a world we are so accustomed to.

Abrahamson’s delicate direction – as well as an emotional, Oscar-nominated screenplay by the novel’s author, Emma Donoghue – ensures the film keeps stride with those themes, but it really is the captivating turns by Tremblay and Larson that pushes the film into territory that can be deemed a complex examination of the psyche when it finds itself having to adapt to the unfamiliar.

Simply put, the pair have a presence and chemistry that is tough to find in any other film from the last year.

Room isn’t coy with its subject matter – and it shouldn’t pretend to be, what with the unfathomable premise it presents – but rather realistic, focusing on the simple yet oh so delicate bond between a mother and her son that the whole movie revolves around.

Abrahamson could have taken it in another direction completely, focusing on the world around the pair that has changed so much.

Instead, he rightly elects to focus on the micro, on that bond that becomes strained when the relationship between Jack and his mother should be revitalized in the comfort expected to be found in the outside world.

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Although Room does more or less go full circle when it comes to Jack and his struggle to adapt to a world that to him seems like a surreal fantasy, there are other relationships and mindsets that are merely teased when they could have been explored further, especially when it comes to Joy and her father.

But the bonds the film does explore are profoundly satisfying, and also an incredibly humbling experience to behold. The audience can expect to leave at the very least pondering the ostensible simplicities of life, if not transformed. Larson and Tremblay’s profound and sincere performances will make sure of that; at times subdued while at others explosive, this pair is the bedrock, driving force and spirit of one of the most emotionally captivating films of the decade, one that’s never quite as cathartic as the audience may expect.

On the contrary, Room is an ultimately much more believable – and therefore powerful – piece of film that teaches us that companionship, above all else, is the key to keeping ourselves strong in the face of extraordinary adversity.

In a Nutshell 

Driven by hauntingly mesmerizing performances, emotion and humble honesty, Room is one of the very best pictures of the year, with the best chemistry between its two leads, Larson and Tremblay.

9 / 10

 

Room is rated R for language

Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson

2015