Sunday, December 27, 2015

2015 Topps Valor Football Cards

Grabbed some of the 2015 Topps Valor Football cards earlier this month.  I always enjoy the Valor brand of football cards and this year is no different.  Each card has a prominent photo of the player against a smoky colored background in team colors.  The photos have an "art style" look to them.  I can't explain any better but hopefully by looking at them you'll get it.  There is also a nice prominent team logo at the bottom of the fronts.  There are plenty of subsets and I grabbed a Gridiron Warriors and Honor card.  These are very similar to the base cards.  The backs have a nice write-up as well the team logo, player information and some basic stats.  The photos and layout do it for me.   They are just good looking combined with the team colors.  Price point on these are a bit high which has always bummed me out but I guess that is what you get with a "higher end" set.  Again great looking cards which I highly recommend.   

Star Wars: The Force Awakens **Spoilers Included**

**MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD**I've seen it.  Twice.  Like many Star Wars fan boys and girls I've been waiting for this movie for a very long time and I loved it.  This movie had the look and feel of the original trilogy and I thought the storyline was very good even if it did parallel the Star Wars: A New Hope a bit too closely.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a great movie.  Many if not all of the major plot points were talked about or written about prior to the movie but nothing was ever known for certain which was great in itself. 

The movie really was Han Solo's movie.  We all knew he was in it but given Harrison Ford's lack of love for the franchise I really expected his part to be a somewhat smaller than what we actually see.  I was pleasantly surprised to see he was featured so prominently  Rey, the female lead and scavenger links up with Finn, an ex-stormtrooper, who while abandoning his life in the First Order saved the best pilot of the Rebellion.  Rey has also has the droid, BB-8, with the map to Luke Skywalker who has gone into seclusion after one of his padawans goes to the dark side.   They must deliver the droid to the Rebellion.  As they escape the First Order they link up with Han and Chewie. 

Han and Chewie decide to drop Rey and Fin somewhere they can make it back to the rebellion.  After being attacked by the First Order and Sith bad guy Kylo Ren, Han talks to Leia when the rebellion saves the day.  During the attack Rey is taken by Ren and the First Order.  Here it is also revealed that Kylo Ren is Han and Leia's son.  From there the rebellion makes plans to destroy the First Orders planet destroying weapon the Starkiller Base which is built into a planet.

Han, Chewy,  and Finn head off to the Starkiller Base to make sure the shields are down to allow the rebellion fighters to destroy the weapon.  Finn's main goal was actually to save Rey who has already escaped as she figures out she has force powers.  They are able to lower the shields and now altogether look at helping blow up the weapon.  As they are setting charges to do the job Han sees his son Kylo Ren.  Leia had asked Han to bring their son home and Han talks to Kylo Ren hoping to do just that.  Han uses Ren's real name, Ben, when he speaks to him.  It looks as though Kylo Ren might just turn away from the dark side when he ignites his light saber, which he had been handing to Han, and kills Han Solo.  Chewy then shoots Ren which injures him but does not kill him.

Chewy blows the charges and Ren and Finn escape.  A confrontation with Ren happens in the forrest.  Ren takes down Finn and Rey is able to get the lightsaber setting up the big fight.  Due to the planet falling apart neither Finn nor Kylo Ren die and Chewy saves the day rescuing Finn and Rey.  They return to the rebel base after Starkiller Base is destroyed.  BB-8 teams up with R2-D2 who has been in self imposed power down mode until now to combine maps to show the location of Luke Skywalker.  Rey, Chewy and R2 then go to find Luke which they do.  The final scene is Rey holding his lightsaber out to Luke atop a rocky island.  And there the movie ends.

I have definitely left out key plot points or scenes but that is the gist of the movie.  One big one is Supreme Leader Snoke.  He is the mysterious leader of the new order and apparent mentor to Kylo Ren.  He is only shown in holographic images as he speaks to Ren and First Order leadership.  There is still much to be explored.  Will Luke return and what will his role be?  Will he mentor Rey?  Will he actually be seen in fights?  Who is Rey's parents?  Many, many ways the next movie can go  I'm very curious where they take it.

Bottom line is I loved this movie.  Again it has the feel of what we grew up loving.  I'm not an Episodes I-III hater but this movie is what we all expected years ago but didn't get.  Lots of good things with movie with very few negatives.  You have to see this movie.  It is a great jumping on for Star Wars as we move forward and there are plenty of great characters (many of which I haven't mentioned).  The fact that J.J. Abrams won't be directing the next film worries me a little but this is a great foundation so hopefully whoever has the next movie will use this as their template.  Until then you have to go see this movie. 

Star Wars Black Series 6 Inch First Order Stormtrooper

I'm a Star Wars guy, a stormtrooper guy, and an action figure guy so the 6" Hasbro Black series of action figures are great.  That said I hadn't purchased one yet.  That was due to multiple factors but I finally had to do it no matter what havoc it reaped on my Christmas budget.  When I saw the 6" First Order Stormtrooper I couldn't say no.  I hadn't seen it anywhere before and had to have it.  I haven't been disappointed.  This is a great looking figure.  It has nice detail and articulation while the size allows it to really show well.  Again I really like stormtroopers and those from the new movie have a look I also really like.  So here are a few pictures of my figure in and out of the box.  Yes, I'm that guy who takes them out of the box but that is ok. Now I just need to pick up the original 6" stormtrooper and I'll be good. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

James Bond Spectre Movie

I've enjoyed Daniel Craig's turn as James Bond in the 007 movies.  This movie lives up to his past performances.  The movie is packed full of action which is what we've come to expect from a Daniel Craig 007.  None of the 007 movies will win an Oscar but they are entertaining.  That is never in doubt and that is normally why we go to movies.  I won't go into too much detail but will say they seem to tie up some plot points from previous movies.  Again a very enjoyable movie and if you like action movies I think you will like this one. 

Kansas City Royals World Series Champions

The Kansas City Royals defeated the New York Mets in the World Series four games to one.  I was wrong about this one.  The "little engine that could" that is the Royals offense was able to overcome what I thought would be pitching too good to beat.  KC scored 27 runs in the five games while their pitching staff had a 2.94 ERA easily bettering that of the Mets (4.21).  I thought Johnny Cueto's complete game win in game two was the key.  The 2-0 lead really made me think they wouldn't lose this series as I couldn't see the Mets winning all three in New York.  The comeback in game six to tie the game in the ninth before winning the series in the twelfth can't be overlooked as well.  The hitters for Kansas City just never stopped and had timely hits that the New York offense couldn't match.  I love that the Royals won.  They are a small market team whose fan base has had to suffer for a very long time.  Great win for the team and their fans. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

2015-2016 Atlanta Hawks Preview

The Atlanta Hawks won 60 games last year which is a great season by any standard.  Still they slowed some down the stretch (Milsap's injury didn't help) and were vulnerable in the playoffs (even before the Korver and Carroll injuries).  It really made me wonder if this team can make it as a true contender.  So I was excited to see what the team would do going into the off season.  And I left truly disappointed.  DeMarre Carroll left via free agency and the major acquisitions were Tim Hardaway Jr., Justin Holiday, and Tiago Splitter.  While they may be nice additions they aren't game changers.  And much of them being nice additions depends on how they hopefully get better this year while fitting into the Hawks' scheme. 

Jeff Teague once again anchors the team at point guard.  He is steady and one of the better point guards who can give you points when you need it.  Dennis Schroder is a good backup who shows flashes of brilliance but his jump shot is iffy.  Kyle Korver will return as the three-point shooter who helps set it all up.  I'd still like to see his output increase (12.1 PPG last season) but there is some truth that he helps the system by making teams guard him close why making them pay with his outside shot when they don't.  Kent Bazemore is a decent backup but don't expect anything fancy from him. 

Thabo Sefolosha will try to replace Carroll which will be near impossible to do.  He is very good defensively but isn't as good a scorer.   Hardaway Jr. and Holiday will also get minutes at small forward.  Atlanta is really hoping a change of scenery does Hardaway some good and he can up his shooting from the three point line.  Milsap should be good for 16 points and 7.8 boards a game again this year.  His passing in coach Mike Budenholzer's system is almost as important as the other stats he puts up.  I've never been a huge Milsap guy but I have to admit he works in this system well.

Al Horford is back to be the big man.  Like we say every year he is an undersized guy playing center but does a great job of doing just that.  He can be as good as any on his best nights.  I know it is too early to be thinking about this but I worry about whether or not Atlanta will be able to resign him at the end of this year.  I'd hate to see him go. Tiago Splitter will spell Horford and will also log minutes at power forward.  Coming from the Spurs one would hope he can adjust quickly to his new team. 

This is a good team but Atlanta really didn't make any impact moves leaving the Carroll departure as the biggest thing to affect the lineup.  Can Sefolosha or someone else step up and fill that whole?  I'm not sure.  I think Atlanta is good when firing on all cylinders.  Last year worked but now that Carroll is gone how big a deal will that be?  Budenholzer will have to figure that out moving forward. I think 50 wins is doable for the Hawks and maybe, just maybe they can get back to the conference finals.  Believe me I am hoping. 
These new Hawks uniforms are horrible!

2015-2016 Portland Trail Blazers Preview

I think the picture of Damian Lillard is appropriate for this since he is about all they have left from the 51 win season of last year.  Gone are starters LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez.  Wow.  Replacing them are miscellaneous players the front office has been able to gather up.  Lillard will anchor the point guard spot and with all the departures I think he can increase his scoring output.  After that it gets shaky. CJ McCollum has the edge over new guy Gerald Henderson at shooting guard.  McCollum actually has upside but isn't the shooter that Matthews was.  Keeping that theme, we'll see Al Farouq-Aminu and Alan Crabbe compete for minutes at the small forward sort.  Neither is proven and will be hard pressed to fill Batum's shoes.  At power forward Ed Davis looks to be the guy and I think he can develop into a nice player but I'm not sure how effective a scorer he'll become.  Mason Plumlee, Myers Leonard and Chris Kaman will be the centers.  Again many questions at a position that will have to be answered once the season starts.  I hope Plumlee can be the guy many think he will.  We haven't seen it yet but who knows what can happen once he is actually starting.  Way too many question marks to make me think this team is a playoff contender.  I am thinking 35 wins.  I sure hope I am wrong but only time will tell. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Moses Malone Passes Away

It has been a few months since the passing of NBA great Moses Malone at the age of 60.  I wanted to throw a few thoughts out there.  Malone was a dominating player who played 20 seasons averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds for his career.  The three-time league MVP (one-time Finals MVP) made his money on the offensive boards.  He led the league in offensive rebounds nine times and is the all-time career leader in that category (3rd overall in total rebounds).  He was also a master of getting to the free throw line landing second on the all-time free throws attempted and free throws made lists only behind Karl Malone.  Moses will routinely show up in the top 10 of the all-time NBA greats lists and it is well deserved.  He was a beast underneath.  Not a guy that was going to look for a jump shot he did his best work underneath scrapping for rebounds and the put back.  Moses made the all-star team 13 times and was first team all-pro 6 times and second team all-pro 5 times.  He should never be overlooked when talking about all-time great centers in the NBA  I was very sad to hear of his passing and he is one of my favorites players and it is a shame he died too young. 

2015 World Series - New York Mets vs Kansas City Royals

While I could have seen the Kansas City Royals here at the beginning of the season I really didn't see the New York Mets in the World Series.  While I have no love for the Mets this is a great matchup.  The Royals are a great contact hitting team while the Mets starting staff loves to strike out opposing batters.  So where do you go with choosing a winner?  I'll go with New York.  When in doubt go with pitching.  While the bullpens favor the Royals the Mets definitely have an edge with their starting rotation.  They also have enough offense to back it up.  With a few good starts by their pitching this could go Kansas City's way.  Still I'll say the Mets win this one in seven games.  That said, I'm rooting for the Royals.  I love this team and really want to see a World Series banner raised at Kaufman Stadium.  Should be a great series no matter who the eventual winner is.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hotel Transylvania 2

Was able to see Hotel Transylvania 2 movie recently and I wasn't disappointed.  These are just fun little movies and it of course is great fun with Halloween just around the corner.  I won't go into a huge review or detail but this is a fun movie.  I've always loved the classic monsters and they are done well here in an animated environment.  Adding to it is the human boy who marries Dracula's daughter and now the son they have.  Of course grandpa and all his friends are doting family who can't wait for him to grow into his fangs.  There is also much more interaction with humans in this movie which adds to the adventure.  Again, this is just an enjoyable movie that any kid will enjoy and I recommend you take a look. 

2015 Topps Baseball Update Series Trading Cards

Grabbed a retail box of the 2015 Topps Baseball Update Series from the local Wally World.  For just under $10 you get 72 cars which I broke out below.  Standard update stuff with lots of young players and those who have changed teams.  Always nice to see players in their new unis.  They also throw in some inserts from the original series as well as some new ones.  I really like the All-Star Game and Homerun Derby cards.  Those are always a favorite of mine though I really, really dislike the hats the players wore for the game.  The team cards were also nice.  Nothing special but a nice pic with a little write-up on the back.  I've always liked this set and I didn't find any reasons not to like the update cards...though pulling a relic would have been nice.
Base Cards - 47 (12 Rookie Cards - RC/1 Future Stars)
All-Star Game/Home Run Derby - 14
Team Cards - 2
Rookie Combos - 2
1st Homerun - 2
Checklist - 1 (Miguel Cabrera 400th Homerun)
Pride and Perserverance - 1 (Anthony Rizzo)
Rookie Sensation - 1 (1997 Livan Hernandez)
Tape Measure Blasts - 1 (Mark McGwire)
Highlight - 1 (Joe DiMaggio)

2015 MLB Playoffs - League Championship Series Are Set

NOTE:  I posted this much later than expected so both the ALCS and NLCS have started.  This was written prior to the start of those series though.
Great games and series in the Wild Card and Division Series playoff rounds.  All you want are good games and great moments and we got both.  The Pittsburgh Pirates didn't beat Chicago but the Cubs did beat the Cardinals which I thought would would happen. It is great to see Chicago get to the National League Championship Series but it was just as fun watching them beat the Cards who are their big rival.  This Cubs team is young and easy to like. These guys aren't a fluke and it isn't hard to think they could go all the way...which is exactly what I think they'll do.  I expect to see the Cubs in the World Series. 

The Mets are a good blend of offense and pitching but I didn't think they'd be able to defeat the Dodgers as they did.  They are a tough matchup for the Cubs and should provide for an excellent series.  You have to like any team who can beat a team that throws Kershaw and Greinke at you in a five game series.  The moves New York made at the trade deadline were great and they have backed those moves up with a nice post season to this point.

Kansas City beat a Houston Astros team which surprised me by beating the New York Yankees in the wild card game.  I loved this matchup and wasn't surprised it went five games.  Kansas City is still that team that just makes it happen.  Hits can come from anywhere and if their pitching can get to the seventh inning with a lead, the win is almost guaranteed.  K.C. also had to be excited to see the outstanding effort by Johnny Cueto in the clinching game five.  The Royals can't be counted out in any series. 

Toronto stormed back after losing their first two games to Texas to stamp their appearance in the ALCS.  I love this team and that power.  With all the great pitching we now see in the big leagues it is fun to see a team who can seemingly hit one out during any at bat.  And what did I think of the Jose Bautista bat flip?  Loved it.  While I enjoy the prim and proper respect that baseball cherishes I also think that moments like that, great moments, should be full of emotion.  Bautista didn't direct his actions at any particular player.  It was just emotions flowing.  I stand by my original thoughts and think Toronto will make it past Kansas City to reach the World Series. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Baseball Mogul Diamond Review

This year I picked up Baseball Mogul Diamond.  The last version I had, and reviewed, was Baseball Mogul 2013.  Diamond is a Major League Baseball simulation game that uses players from 1900 to allow you to play teams and leagues as you wish.  You get to be the manager and general manager as well as the player during in game simulations if you wish.  I love this game.  I can get lost in it for an hour or so without even thinking.    I won't go into as much detail as the 2013 review so please take a look at it to get more information.  Bottom line with Diamond is it is a very good simulation game that allows you to play with players from as far back as 1900, customize leagues, have fantasy drafts, be a general manager, a manager, make trades, set strategy, sign free agents, and much much more. 
Setting Lineups & Managing the Minor Leagues

I love the ease.  I usually start my franchises in 1964.  I complete a fantasy draft which allows me to draft some of the all-time greats.  I tend to have the computer finish most drafts as they can be plenty lengthy.  From there I try to win with the team I drafted.  If that doesn't work I quickly go to work making trades to build up my minor leagues with prospects.  Trading is easy and I love the feeling of making decisions that could turn things around.  I mean who hasn't thought they could do that.  Each season takes me less than an hour to go through depending on how many individual games I end up finishing (usually not many).  As you progress throughout the years, you'll see things change just as they did in the majors - more playoff teams, division alignments, and expansion teams. 
Individual Game Screen
I suggest starting with the big market teams the first time you play this game.  It is very easy to start running out of money when you aren't keen on the nuances.  You don't want the game to get frustrating before you know how to play so starting with a big marked team with a bigger budget allows for a little easier going early on.  Games can be saved at any time so you can play one game, multiple games or even multiple seasons.  I love that. 
Standings, Team Stats, Quick Budget View, and Team Leaders
The game is also available on Amazon.  Some of the reviews are pretty negative.  I take this into perspective.  I think this game offers a lot of great options, stats, capabilities, and simulation choices.  For me the price point is great considering how much is included.  I get that there are hardcore fans of this game who want to see more and better changes but I think this game does a great job providing what is advertised.  Some think it should do more but I think much of that is sour grapes.  This is a great game. 

Individual Player Stats & Scouting
Sports Mogul allows you to download a free version of their 2012 Baseball Mogul game here.  It doesn't have all the functionality but you'll get the idea.   The only real drawback to me is the lack of Major League team licenses.  While it is a bummer the logos are the only things missing.  You still have the actual teams and team name.

If you enjoy baseball at all enjoy the thought of being a general manager in the major leagues you need to check this game out.  It is nothing but a joy for me and I think serious fans will also get hours of fun from it.   
Available Free Agents

Free Agent Negotiations

Trade Negotiations

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

2015 MLB Playoffs

Playoff time is here again and I have to get my two cents in.  I'll start in the National League.  If you are the Pittsburgh Pirates you are hating life even if you won't say it publicly.  First you're perennially stuck behind the St. Louis Cardinals which has meant you are again a wild card team despite winning 98 games this year (88 in '14, 94 in '15).  To add insult to injury you are stuck playing the 97 win Chicago Cubs and their Cy Young candidate in a one game playoff tomorrow night.  As much as I love the Cubs' story I'm rooting for the Pirates.  They have done well the last three years and I'd like to see them rewarded with a division series win.  To do that they'll have to get past the Cubs and the 100 win Cardinals.  Their work is cut out for them but I have hope.  The Dodgers host the Mets in the other Division series.  I like L.A. here if for no other reason than the 1-2 punch of Kershaw and Greinke.  If by chance the Mets can win one of those games they have a shot at winning this series but I think this series hinges on those first two games.  The Cardinals just win.  I don't have a clue how but they win.  Living near St. Louis I have to live it all depth.  That said I think that some of the injuries they're dealing with may be too much for them to overcome.  The Cubs and Pirates are both loaded for bear and should be able to beat the Cardinals.  It may be wishful thinking but I think they can.  I give Pittsburgh a better shot than the Cubs but neither can be counted out.  So I'm thinking Dodgers-Pirates in the N.L. Championship Series.  From there I have to stick with Pittsburgh.  I think in a seven game series they can still beat the Dodgers even if they have to face the "Dynamic Duo" four times.  The Dodger's inconsistent offense will be their downfall. 

In the American League the Houston Astros and New York Yankees square off tonight in the wild card game.  I have a feeling the Yankees win this game but how great would it be for Houston to host a playoff game this year?  Their fans and the franchise has suffered for a long time.  Still New York probably takes it.  I don't think either team can beat the Royals so Kansas City should be in the A.L. Championship series for the second year in a row.  Toronto hosts Texas in the other series.  The Rangers are another team we didn't see coming this year, especially after the first half of the season.  Still Toronto has great offense and enough pitching to get by most teams and that includes the Rangers.  Can Toronto get past Kansas City in the next round?  I think so.  Again their offense should be the tipping point.  Kansas City is a very good team overall so I would never count them out (see last year's playoff games as proof). 

So how about a Blue Jays - Pirates World Series?  I'm digging it.  I think the Blue Jays take it all though with an offense that can pummel the best of pitching staffs.  It could still go seven games which of course is what I'd be hoping for in any scenario.  With my teams nowhere to be found in the playoffs I always find teams to root for and this year has plenty of options.  I'm all in on Pittsburgh but the Cubs are so good of a story that a World Series appearance would be nothing less than lots o' fun.  In the American League Houston and Texas have never won a World Series and Kansas City and Toronto haven't won one in a very long time.  All would be great stories but that doesn't mean any of the other teams wouldn't be.  I just know who I'll be rooting for.  Pittsburgh and Kansas City (with Houston close behind).  Still I believe we'll see Toronto as the champs once it is all said and done.  More than anything I hope for some great moments, great games, and plenty to talk about the next day at the water cooler.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Star Wars: Journey to the Force Awakens Trading Cards

Grabbed a couple of packs of the Star Wars: Journey to the Force Awakens trading cards.  Two key thoughts to this set.  The price point of $4.98 for 14 cards is too high.  You can get 30 Topps football or 40 Donruss football cards for the same price so I don't get why these have to be so expensive.  My other takeaway is the base cards are pretty blah.  While they hearken back to to older Star Wars cards it seems like we've seen this set before.  That said I'm a huge Star Wars fan and was very excited going in and maybe I was expecting too much.  The inserts and many parallel colors are OK but nothing with these cards just wowed me.  I'm not saying these aren't good they just don't do anything for me.  There is of course some good here.  I like the puzzle pieces that are on the back of the cards and of course seeing photos of characters and scenes from the upcoming movie.  I pulled Death Star silver, Jabba Slime Green, and Black Starfield colored parallel cards.  I also pulled a concept art card, sticker card, and Heroes of the Resistance card.  The sticker was pretty cool but didn't take up much of the card and the concept art card is also very nice.  I doubt I'll pick up more of these.  Just not enough wow factor.  I will seek out other reviews to see if maybe I'm missing something.  I hope others do enjoy the set and I do think it helps build the excitement for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

2015 Donruss Football Review

I returned from a trip last week and walked into my local Wal-Mart not expecting much in the trading cards section but I saw the new 2015 Donruss football offering. So I picked up two packs for a total of 80 cards.  I was blown away.  I haven't been this excited about a set in quite a while.  In fact I probably went overboard.  I picked up an additional pack a day later and four more packs today.  Yes, that is seven packs.  I rarely do anything like this so it has been a blast and I really wanted to share some of my finds.
I like the front which really reminds me of those 80's Donruss baseball sets which had the same type of striped border.  While not normally something I go for I really like it.  The rest of the front is fine but they committed a huge faux pas by not putting the player's position the front.  I really do not like it when a company does this.  The photos are good and they did a good job getting players in their current team's uniforms.  The backs are pretty basic but I like the color and layouts. 
The base cards had three red parallel cards per pack and had many subsets and inserts which was great.  My favorite by far were the Gridiron Kings/Legends and the Elite Passing the Torch cards.  Great photos with a mix of current and former players.  You'll also find the Rated Rookies cards that Donruss is known for as well as base cards featuring players from years past.  I love the retired player cards.  Another great thing was the fact that I had few doubles until I hit the seventh pack which surprised me.  I kept expecting to see doubles pretty early but it was rare through the first five packs.
Base Cards (just the plain Jane variety):  177
Rookie Cards (RC):  19 (3 red)
Rated Rookies:  12 (3 red/1 green college stat line)
Retired Players:  24 (1 green career stat line - Marshall Faulk)
Classics:  2
The Rookies:  1 (#333/999 Marcus Mariota)
Gridiron Kings:  7 (2 red/1 Seasoned Stat Line #84/379 - Phillip Rivers))
Gridiron Legends:  2 (1 red)

Rookie Signature Series:  1 (John Brown)
Elite Passing the Torch:  3
Elite:  28 (14 RC)
Elite Series:  4
Again I love this set and I think all the inserts, the old-timers and design do it for me.  My favorite cards I pulled are the Deion Sanders (in the awesome red Falcons jersey), LaDainian Tomlinson Passing the Torch, and Gridiron Kings/Gridiron Legends cards.  I enjoy art cards and Donruss has always knocked it out of the park with their "Kings" series.  I was of course excited to get the signature card and the numbered cards, especially the Mariota offering.  Not sure what I'll do with them next but it sure has been fun which is what it is all about.  I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks of these cards. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

2015 NFL Season - What I'm Thinking

We'll get right to it.  I'm very happy it is all about football now and not the off season stories that have dominated the news.  Here are my famous, maybe not so famous, predictions.

NFC Playoffs:  Dallas, Green Bay, Atlanta, Seattle, Detroit (WC), Philadelphia (WC)
AFC Playoffs:  New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Denver, Cincinnati (WC), San Diego (WC)
Super Bowl:  Seattle over Indianapolis

I'm still waffling on the Atlanta pick but that division is weak and who really is going to come out of there?  New Orleans doesn't have a defense, I'm not sure Carolina's offense is any better than last year, and Tampa Bay's season hinges on a rookie quarterback.  I'm not saying Atlanta is built to succeed but in a bad division maybe the new head coach can coax some immediate improvement from them.  Again that pick could change.  Philadelphia is also a team pick that might raise some eyebrows.  I normally don't pay any attention to the preseason but Philly's offense really looked good.  I may eat my words and wish I went with Arizona but I'll stick with Philly.  I think Seattle goes back to the Super Bowl and wins their second championship.  They still have a great defense and the offense got much better with the addition of Jimmy Graham.

San Diego is probably the only stretch in the AFC.  That left out Kansas City.  I really want KC to do well but I think they take a step back this year.  My buddy actually talked me into this without even trying.  I really like Phillip Rivers and their running game and defense could be better this year which means playoffs to me.  The AFC will have plenty of teams vying for that last playoff spot so there are probably four teams that could land here.  If Indy fields anything resembling an average defense they are my AFC Super Bowl pick.  Not saying they'll win it all but I think they can get there.  Pittsburgh may play them in the AFC Championship but don't rule out New England being there though it will be tough for them to get back to the AFC title game. 

The individual stories I'm looking forward to will lean towards the older crowd.  What?  A crowd of superstar quarterbacks in the NFL are aging.  This could be Peyton's last year.  Brady is like 38, Drew Brees is getting up there, Tony Romo is 35 and Big Ben and Phillip Rivers aren't getting younger.  We've seen a golden age of quarterbacks the last decade.  Things are changing and I'm definitely going to enjoy the remaining seasons of each.  Other than that I'm curious to see what Chip Kelly has built in Philly, can the Tony Romo of last year show up again, and can Detroit get over the hump?  Should be a great season as always as long as we aren't talking about off the field issues week after week.   

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Michael Sweet Autobiography, Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed, Review

Michael Sweet is the lead singer of the band Stryper who rose to fame in the 1980's.  Stryper is a christian rock/metal band that was part of the hair bands that came from the decade.  They, as most, bands have had their ups and downs and breakups.  They are currently together putting out albums and touring.  I was first introduced to Stryper through a school newspaper article.  I picked up their album The Yellow and Black Attack and I was hooked.  While there was plenty of rock out there at the time, this was new.  Rock with a positive message.  I soon saw them on tour which solidified my fandom for the group and I've been a huge fan ever since.  When lead singer Michael Sweet's autobiography came out last year I jumped on it. 

Honestly: My Life and Stryper Revealed is a good book, not a great book.  Michael Sweet opens up about life in Stryper and life in general.  The biggest takeaway from this is I sense Michael Sweet has a chip on his shoulder.  He seems to be defending himself throughout the pages and at times comes off as self centered.  That may be negative but I want autobiographies to be honest and I think we get that from Michael Sweet.  The book itself takes you from his early childhood, through the forming of Stryper, their rise, the band's career, their breakup and their getting back together.  Throughout he talks about his private life to include his family's influence on his musical life, the loss of his wife, and his new wife.  While I enjoyed the book, I thought it was short on some details or information.  I wasn't looking for a 1,000 page encyclopedia.  There just seemed to be places where more detail seemed appropriate.  Without going into specifics he would make a point about something but would not answer what seemed like the next appropriate point, like "what happened then".  Or large periods of time would be glossed over.  Again a ton of detail isn't necessary but maybe just more info to help the reader feel like it is time to go to the next topic. 

One thing I had to remind myself is this isn't a book about the band itself.  So I think sometimes I wanted more information on what happened that would probably be more appropriate in a book specifically about the band.  With that in mind Michael Sweet did a good job telling his story and the book is an easy read.  Again I'm surprised somewhat with how he always seemed to be defending himself or having to describe how he was the one with the plan or looking out for everyone.  He may be absolutely right in how he frames things but for me it was a theme throughout the book and I have to wonder.

I am a huge Stryper fan and a Michael Sweet fan.  I did enjoy the insight into Michael Sweet's life as well as that of the band.  There are definitely facts I never knew before which helps me paint the mental picture I have of Stryper.  Filling in some of the gaps while also providing focus on events that there wasn't much public knowledge of.  I think most Stryper fans will want to read this but I'm not sure many outside that circle (metal heads maybe) will.  I do think all Stryper fans should and anyone remotely interested in Michael Sweet and Stryper should. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Passing of Darryl Dawkins

Darryl Dawkins passed away last week.  I heard ESPN's Mike Greenberg speaking on Dawkins this week and I thought he captured him in a way that really resonated with me.  When you speak of Dawkins his stats will never come up though he had a good career.   Known as Chocolate Thunder he was just a player that was bigger than life when I was growing up.  I thought he was the best center there was.  He had to be.  He shattered backboards!  His personality would compare to Shaquille O'Neal's.  Dawkins named his dunks and even rapped about them.  He was made for today's social media instant replay world.  He is probably most famous for the backboards he shattered.  He was a strong man who loved to show it when going in for one of his famous dunks.  Again he may not have been a great player from his time but everyone knew him whether it be for his named dunks or his shattered backboards.  I am sorry he has passed but I will always remember him as that bigger than life player and person.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Major League Baseball Sprint to October

Baseball season is winding down and the playoffs will be upon us soon.  I want to touch on a few highlights for me as we get to the stretch run.  First off I have to talk about the Blue Jays.  Wow.  This team has been on a tear since July 29th.  Their offense has outscored opponents by 191 runs this season!  Only two other teams have outscored their opponents by over 100 runs.  Add to that they seem to hit homeruns every other at bat this team is fun to watch.  The Jays' pitching is average but this team will be tough to deal with come playoff time as long as their offense is hitting.  The Royals have the easiest rode to the playoffs currently enjoying a 13 game lead within their division.  Didn't see that coming but I love Kansas City having success after suffering so many years.  The American League West is all upside down.  The Astros currently have a 4 game lead over Texas and a 7.5 game lead over the Angels.  Who?  What?  Crazy but I love it.  Houston is another franchise that deserves some love for their long suffering fans.  While I love it, I wouldn't be surprised if the standing in this division change again before the end of the season.  The Twins and Yankees should also be applauded for the nice seasons they have put together when little was expected either of them. 

In the National League the Cardinals just keep winning.  Their stud pitching staff carries them while the
offense is average at best.  It is almost a shame as Pittsburgh and the very surprising Cubs are having very good years but may be destined to meet in a one game playoff.  The Dodgers aren't great but with Greinke and Kershaw they are not a team you want to meet in the playoffs.  No they can't pitch every game but they could win every game they start which will make it tough for any team to counter.  The Nationals have struggled allowing the amazing Mets to surge to a nice 6.5 game lead.  Very happy to see them do well but I, along with many, thought the Nationals could be the team to beat.  I just don't get what happened.  Don't blame it on Bryce Harper though as he has had a wonderful season.   

It has been a very exciting season with many stories we didn't expect.  It makes for a nice change.  The St. Louis Cardinals seem to be the one constant.  I look at this team and it just doesn't seem that scary but they are good.  Still there are lots of stories and who knows what will happen come playoff time.  I for one hope we'll see some new blood win a championship this year.  It is great for the sport and fans to have the different markets compete.  May not be great for ratings but that isn't what it is all about.  It is about players, owners, managers, teams, and fans who bleed team colors and deserve a chance to celebrate a championship.  Since my Braves and Red Sox are out of it, so out of it, I'm rooting for Pittsburgh in the N.L. and Houston, Kansas City, and Toronto in the A.L.  If nothing else it should be fun as always (except for the one game playoff but that is a different post) the next two months.  
The Chicago Cubs donned pajamas for the plane ride home after Jake Arrieta no hit the Los Angeles Dodgers.  You have to love it.