Sunday, July 31, 2016

The parallels between Matt Kemp and Adam Sandler

In a world not too long ago, Adam Sandler was arguably the most popular movie star in the world. He burst onto the silver screen in the mid-90’s with hit films like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore. Those films helped transform the New Hampshire-born actor into a comedic box office force. 

In 1998, Sandler started in The Waterboy, his first $100-million film. Between 1998 and 2011, Sandler started in 11 films that grossed at least $100 million, despite most critics despising the work he did. Still, the fans came out in droves, hungry for fart and boob jokes and Sandler acting like a goofball.  

With the success of his films came the large paychecks. Most celebrity net worth websites list Sandler’s net worth in the neighborhood of $300 million. At one point in time, Sandler was probably the most beloved celebrity amongst teenagers and young adults. I can attest to that -- Sandler movies became a guaranteed night out with my friends. We used to quote lines in each film and laugh like babies. “Veronica Vaughn, so hot, want to touch the hiney. OHHHHWOOOOO!!” Comedic. Freaking. Genius. 

Then when I hit my mid-20’s something changed. Sandler lost his appeal. He got old, fat and kind of stale. He was making the same exact jokes in 2011 that he made in 1996. The man played the exact same characters in every film. There was the movie where he got to “hook up” with Brooklyn Decker AND Jennifer Aniston in the same film. That’s My Boy is a cinematic masterpiece that involves a dorky Sandler impregnating the high school teacher, then reconnecting with his rich son. Oh, there’s also some insect jokes in there for good measure. Both plots were ridiculously unbelievable. wasn’t funny. In fact, I walked out of the theater thinking my love affair with Adam Sandler was over. It was time to bury him in the time capsule of my life. I’d place his films next to my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys, my Discman and the first adult magazine I found in my buddy’s dad’s drawer. No more, I said. 

After 15 years, Sandler no longer seemed relevant to me. I still love the films I saw as a teenager but I was pretty sure I would never pay to see one of his films again. He is a has-been and no longer cares about making a quality film for his audience. Hell, he has even admitted to making films just to hang out with his buddies. Peter Dante and Allen Covert has sucked at the Sandler tit for the better part of 20 years. Well, looks like the cash cow is dryer than a California summer. 

In 2006, Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp made his big league debut. He was a giant outfielder -- 6’4 and 230 lbs and man, he could run like a gazelle. The athletic outfielder also could hit balls with authority and as much as I hated the Dodgers, Kemp looked to be the next superstar Padres fans would love to hate. 

In 2011, Kemp was basically the best player in baseball. He led the National League with 39 homers and 126 RBI. He stole 40 bases and his OPS+ of 172 was the best in the league. The man was an offensive force and should have won MVP. The man looked like he could be this generation’s next great slugger. He signed an 8-year, $160 million contract after that incredible season. Kemp talked about winning championships and making all-star teams. Instead of greatness, the Dodgers got a rapid decline. 

Kemp missed a lot of time in 2012 and 2013 with various injuries. He dealt with ankle and shoulder problems and his athleticism seemed to be sapped from his body. Kemp was no longer the dynamic player he once was -- in fact he wasn’t really an average player anymore. The Dodgers had seen enough. 

On December 18, 2014, the Los Angeles Dodgers traded Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres for catcher Yasmani Grandal, and minor league pitchers Zach Eflin and Joe Wieland. The Dodgers paid the Padres $32 million to take Kemp off their hands. It was staggering. 

Yeah, I’ll admit, I drank the Matt Kemp Kool-Aid. I remember the Matt Kemp that used to be a physical specimen, the one that looked like a sure-fire Hall of Famer. I saw my team actually acquire big league talent instead of shipping it off to an actual contender. I salivated over a Kemp, Justin Upton, and Wil Myers led team. I remembered the dark days of watching Brad Hawpe and Orlando Hudson hitting in the middle of the order. The Padres were going for it, and it was fun, dammit. Shortly into the season, the optimism and excitement started to fade. Matt Kemp ain’t what he used to be. 

Kemp, now 31, couldn’t really run much. For most of the 2015 season, he couldn’t hit either. He had one homer through 56 games. He didn’t draw walks, he couldn’t play the outfield and really was a sub-replacement level player. To be brutally honest: he sucked. It was like watching Grown-Ups 2 all over again. Only this time the movie was six months long. 

The one thing that Kemp did was get fans excited. The casual fan remembered that he used to be good. Yes, the man eventually drove in 100 runs and hit 23 homers but he didn’t do much else. The women loved him and he was a box-office draw. There is value in name recognition. People bought up his jerseys and cheered him on. Kemp was good once, they thought, perhaps he will find the magic than made him arguably the best player in baseball at one time. Kemp never did in San Diego. 

In 2014, after his latest box-office flop, Adam Sandler signed an exclusive four-movie deal with Netflix. The thought was probably “Sandler used to relevant. Someone out there may pay us $8 a month to see him play a ukulele and jerk off a horse. Let’s make some money!” 

Low and behold, the two movies Sandler made for Netflix thus far have been critically panned. I am not sure if the company has increased their profits by inking Sandler but it doesn’t seem that likely. Sandler’s days of making America laugh are long over.

In this analogy, the San Diego Padres were Netflix. They attempted to take the fading star and hope he would propel an mundane team into the limelight. San Diego’s foray into high-spending failed miserably. It was a disappointment, for sure, as I was certain the Padres could nab a Wild-Card berth. Kemp was supposed to be the leader of that box-office smash. Instead the blended mix of players failed like Sandler’s movie Blended. Hey, let’s see him pursue and try to nail Drew Barrymore AGAIN. Box-office gold! 

Kemp returned to San Diego this season and once again, hit homers, but couldn’t do anything else. Kemp couldn’t beat the Friar mascot in 40-yard dash. He legs are shot and he is no longer dynamic. Still, the man can hit dingers, is handsome and used to be good. Could it be plausible that the rebuilding Padres could easily trade the once-amazing Kemp to bevy of contenders looking for that extra bat to propel them to a championship, right? Wrong. 

The Padres traded the corpse of Matt Kemp to the Atlanta Braves for Hector Oliveria, a 31-year-old Cuban who is currently serving an 82-game suspension for domestic violence. San Diego, wanting no part of a potential convicted felon, will designate Oliveria for assignment and eventually release him. 

San Diego’s part in the trade was motivated financially, as they will trim some money and “save” about $25 million. The Dodgers will continue to pay $3.5 million for the duration of the contract and the Padres will take on the approximate $30 million owed to Oliveria. 

So, to sum things up: Kemp was once an MVP candidate, now he is only tradeable to a last-place team for a guy who beats women. Quite the fall from grace for a man who used to romance Rihanna. The Padres essentially sold Kemp to Atlanta, hoping to open right field for younger and almost certainly less-handsome ballplayers. To see Kemp smile is to see an unfinished symphony from Mozart. The ladies love him. 

The parallels between Adam Sandler and Matt Kemp are staggering. In their prime, they were both big stars who commanded the adulation of their respective fanbases. Now, both starts seem to be going through the motions, both going where a causal fan will never find them. Sandler hasn’t done a studio film since Pac-Man tried to have him murdered and Kemp went from Los Angeles to San Diego to an Atlanta team that is in tank-mode. 

Both men were once at the top of their respective professions but now? They are wasting away, shells of what they once were. The public eye is a ruthless bitch. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Remembering Mom One Year Later

I haven't had much occasion to post anything too personal here lately -- I work a full-time job and have been plugging away, writing for a Padres minor league site, but today marks a significant day in my life. It has been one year since my mom passed away.

The death kind of came out of nowhere; a potentially strangulated bowel, turned into an ordeal that led to her death. My mom suffered from COPD as well, so the combination of anesthesia, surgery, and virtually no lung capacity was too much to recover from. She was 62.

Four months prior to that, I lost my father after a lengthy battle with multiple myeloma, a real bastard of a disease. He fought like hell, but ultimately it was just too much. Three weeks before my 30th birthday both my parents were gone. I suppose it could be worse, but my mom was and has always been my hero.

I so wanted to write some beautiful tribute shortly after she passed but I just couldn't. My usually opinionated mouth had little to say. The words never really came and I felt whatever I chose to write would not be good enough. I was completely lost. Hell, I still am.

My mom, Kathleen Wooddrick (later Charity) was born on August 29th, 1952, outside of Chicago. She moved to California when she was 18 and spent the majority of her adulthood working as an LVN. She was a nurse for nearly 40 years. She was also a single mother for most of my life.

My parents split when I was 4, my dad remarried a year or so later but my mom never did. She was in a relationship with a man for 12 years, but they never married. For the last 15 years or so of her life, she chose not to enter another relationship, perfectly content to be on her own.

My mom worked long hours, so she wasn't one of those moms you see on television. She would work a ten hour day, come home and hang out on the couch. Every now and then she would check out my homework or we would just sit around and watch television until it was time to do it all over again. She wasn't a great cook but we never went hungry. Every now and then KFC or McDonalds happened. Those were good days.

Her weekends were full of joyful activities, such as laundry and picking up after me. A toy here, a t-shirt there. She would constantly complain. I thought she was being mean. I was just being a stupid kid. At some point, she would step on a Ninja Turtle or Power Ranger then curse at me to pick my stuff up. This pattern repeated every Saturday. We were both creatures of routine.

I witnessed my mom stop at nothing to provide for me and my older sister. Her car got stolen once and she arranged for rides from co-workers. A few times she would walk to work, which was a six-mile trek one way. If she was sick, she went into work, rarely taking a sick day.

Vacations rarely happened for her -- she cashed in her vacation hours at the end of the year to buy us Christmas gifts. She lost sleep and downtime so I could have a stupid Nintendo and useless action figures. The sick days were cashed helped her pay bills and keep a roof over our heads. As a child I just expected video games and Nike tennis shoes to fall into my lap; as an adult, all those things were sacrifices of sanity from my mom.

As I hit adulthood, I stumbled through my 20's. I was always a smart kid but I was also incredibly lazy. I did poorly my first few semesters of college and ultimately put in on the back-burner. I spent the next 5 years of my life working as a "sales specialist" at Office Depot making $11 an hour to sell products I didn't fully understand. I spent most of my shifts finding ways to goof off and prolong my adolescence as long as humanly possible. At times, I felt like an absolute loser who was on the path to nowhere. My mom stood in my corner and never made me feel like a loser. She was one of the few people who believed in me.

Eventually, I got my stuff together, got a Bachelor's degree and found a real job. She encouraged me throughout the process and I mainly pushed through all the obstacles because I wanted to do it for her. She deserved to get rewarded for everything she put into me.

A few months ago, I reflected on the fact that I really didn't establish myself as a true adult until I hit 28. Many people find their path earlier in life, start careers and move out in their early 20's. While I certainly didn't maximize my potential, my "burnout" years became a blessing for me; I got to spend more time with mom. Looking back, I wouldn't change those days for anything.

I lived at home from 24-28 and boy did I bitch about it. I wanted to have my own place but $11 an hour doesn't go very far in San Diego. Once I made the return to school, mom never charged me a penny for rent, nor did I pay any bills. She allowed me to save money and have some spending money to have fun.  All she asked for was my loose change and a chocolate bar when I returned home from hanging out with friends or running errands. If a Payday bar was not received, she would light me up with curse words. Sometimes I'd neglect her sweet tooth to hear the wild things that would come out of her mouth. Her generosity was baffling, considering this woman gave me everything I had.

In those adult years, our relationship changed greatly. I would say that we bonded and became friends. My mom was a lot like me: sharp-tongued, sarcastic, reclusive, but with a heart the size of a watermelon. While she hated interacting with most people, she would also do anything to help a loved one in distress. Best of all, she wouldn't make you feel like crap about it. Cross her, or me, and she'd run you down with a Hyundai Accent.

Sure, she and I would butt heads. She would curse me out, I'd snap back with a sarcastic comment. She would hold back laughter and make another comment, sure to get in the last word. Her pet names for me included "dickhead," "asshole," and a variety of other filthy one-liners. Most people would be horrified at the way we'd talk to each other. For us, it was a term of endearment and how we bonded as adults.

At the beginning of February last year, my mom developed an umbilical hernia. The irony is that I too, had a hernia repaired a few months later. As a relatively healthy man in my late-20's I recovered in a few days. The procedure was much more risky for my mother.

Sometime in the recovery period, she lost the ability to breathe on her own and needed a breathing tube. The doctors told us her lungs were failing and that she would likely never be able to breathe on her own. The options were to have her on a tube for the remainder of her life or allow her to go peacefully, without any pain.

Knowing what I did, I knew my mom would never want to be kept alive that way. She always told me that she would rather go than to be forced into that kind of life. That was it. Her life was ending.

My sister and I spent the last few moments of her life at her bedside. It was a rainy day and I looked out the window in despair. I reflected on all the things I learned from my mom. The times she made me angry, the times she did unbelievably selfless things and I didn't know what I would do without her. As the rain fell, I watched the drops smack against the buildings outside. It rarely rains in San Diego, but the sky wept that day.

I thought about how I would live my life from here. Mom has always been the only stable force in my life. I clutched my mom's hand tightly as she took her last breath. It is surreal to know that we spent 60, 70, 80 or more years on this Earth and everything can be broken down to a few precious moments. That was it, the last time I got to spend with my mom.

I had the unfortunate pleasure of delivering the eulogies at both funerals of my parents. I don't remember every word of what I spoke because I had to fight through unbearable depression to address the rooms of people. I fought my trembling knees to stay composed and honor her in a way that seemed appropriate. I spoke a few words about the person she was.  I always describe my mom as selfless, simple and fiercely independent. She instilled the independence and tireless work ethic I have today. I owe everything to her.

So, at the one-year anniversary of her passing, I reflect on all of the memories I have. The good times as a child. The time she saw me club a home run in Little League. The trips we took to Disneyland. I reflected on the values and lessons she engrained in me. She taught me that kindness is important, working hard is essential and taking care of family trumps everything else. While she didn't have a lot in this life,  I know that my sister and I were the reason she kept going. She worked up until her last hospitalization, despite needing to be connected to oxygen 24/7. I still don't know how she overcame the things she did. She is the most remarkable person I have ever known.

I choose not to mope but remember the nearly 30 years we got to spend together. I could never repay her for all she did for me. As an adult, I realize the sacrifice our parents make for us. I am not a religious person, but I know my mom is somewhere, hopefully, relaxed and care-free. Rest easy, mom.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Hope For San Diego -- The Thoughts of a Disgruntled Chargers Fan

I’ve had enough.

This is the first thought that comes to mind whenever I think about the NFL’s race to Los Angeles. A city that allowed two NFL squads to leave for much smaller markets is attempting to lure three teams into the nation’s second largest city, promising a plethora of riches and prestige. On paper, it makes perfect sense for the NFL to move into LA – it has a surrounding population of eight million, rich with wealthy people with tons of disposable income. Perhaps big-time celebrities would be a fixture at the 50-yard line, film executives will shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for luxury seats. 

The owner or owners of the Los Angeles football teams will pass go millions of times, picking up an embarrassment of riches each time. However, the NFL wants to fill the void in Los Angeles with my team, the San Diego Chargers. It is a thought that brings sadness and anger into my thoughts.
For me, the Chargers represent the best times of my childhood. Sundays represented hanging out with my dad and watching Junior Seau run all over the field, blowing up running backs. Stan Humphries battled through concussion hell and Natrone Means giving athletic hope to a chubby slowpoke. Honestly, I can’t think about the Chargers without reminiscing on the best moments of my youth. I fell in love with the sport when the Chargers defied the odds and made it to Super Bowl 29. Sure, they were pummeled by a dominant San Francisco squad, but I knew then that I’d always root for the home team.

Yes, the Chargers have historically been terrible. After a playoff appearance in 1995, the team went nine years without making the playoffs. Ryan Leaf brought promise for a few weeks, we saw dilapidated veterans like Jim Harbaugh, Jim Everett and Doug Flutie attempt to inject some credibility into a losing franchise. We saw Junior Seau’s prime wasted, Rodney Harrison leave for greener pastures and a 1-15 season in which the team really didn’t deserve to win once. No one would have blamed any Charger fan for bailing on the organization and cheering for a better team. I kept hope. Hope that my team would build something great. It happened.

The Chargers draft in 2001 brought us LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees -- two future Hall-of-Famers taken in the same draft. I mean, how often to teams select two players of their caliber in the same draft? Unreal, right?

Well, Brees’ best days took place in New Orleans, but San Diego built a ridiculously talented team. Eventually, Philip Rivers took over when Brees left down, but that ’06 Chargers squad may have been the most talented team of the last 20 years. The complete ineptitude of the Chargers’ organization kept the Chargers from winning a title. As Norv Turner sapped all the discipline and toughness from the roster and A.J. Smith’s luck in the draft dried up, I stayed a fan. Gut-wrenching, horrible defeats snatched from the jaws of glory and happiness. Whatever, I knew the Chargers will get it right someday. Or not.

The San Diego Chargers play in the dilapidated eyesore otherwise known as Qualcomm Stadium. It’s ugly, old and it is outdated. It badly needs replacement but San Diego has not been able to make any progress in getting a replacement built. Taxpayers are gun shy about forking over a billion dollars to a billionaire with a silver spoon hanging out of his mouth. The ownership group looks around and sees palaces built around the NFR with minimal investment on the part of the ownership. Everyone wants to reach into the pockets of the public and squeeze out a few bucks.  Proposal after proposal failed. Chula Vista, National City, Oceanside, and hell even an idea to build near Orange County never came to fruition. Something had to give.

Over the last few years, Chargers owner Dean Spanos had a grandiose idea: move to Los Angeles and become the king of Southern California sports. Los Angeles is one of the most populated and fascinating cities in the United States, full of money and a desire for an NFL team. Los Angeles boasts the Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers, Kings, plus UCLA and USC. If you count the teams based in Orange County, the marketplace has six professional sports team, not including the aforementioned college squads. Any business man would want to conquer this untapped gold mine and become the most valuable sports franchise in the nation’s second largest city. To be the NFL team in Los Angeles could be worth billions.

Enter the St. Louis Rams, owned by mega-billionaire Stan Kroenke. Not only is Kroenke exponentially more wealthy than Mr. Spanos, but his wife is a Walton. Yes, those Waltons -- she has Wal-Mart money and is actually wealthier than her husband. Combined, they are worth $11 billion or so, while most of Spanos’ worth is tied into the value of the Chargers. Kroenke had the wealth to purchase the land and move the Rams to Inglewood, without public money. Spanos, sensing his diabolical plan about to crumble cried foul. The Rams to Los Angeles would ruin him. The Chargers depend on Los Angeles clientele to keep their little business afloat. Ok, then.

Spanos continually pleaded that 25% of the Chargers season ticket base comes from the Los Angeles market. Spanos has made this claim many times in the media, yet has never produced any evidence that his claim is true.  The Rams or any other team moving to Los Angeles would potentially remove 12-15,000 paying customers from Qualcomm Stadium and ultimately millions in revenue from the Chargers’ pockets. Dean Spanos insisted that the Chargers HAD to move, to protect their business. Sorry, San Diego but a team in Los Angeles would crumble the Spanos’ family fortune.

Spanos then decides that the Chargers should purchase potentially toxic land on a landfill in Carson and partner up with the hated Oakland Raiders and get a stadium built. The Raiders play in Stadium which makes a toilet like Qualcomm Stadium look like a palace in Dubai. Both owners would sucker Los Angeles into building a stadium and each owner could fill their pockets.

On the surface, I don’t blame Dean Spanos for wanting to move the Chargers. Heck, if you could take a four bedroom home in Fargo and move it into La Jolla and keep the profits, you would too. That nice $200,000 house in Fargo is worth $2.3 million in La Jolla. It’s just good business. A move to Los Angeles could double the net worth of Dean Spanos and family. These rational and seemingly smart moves are not the reason why Charger fans are angry. It’s the lies and it is the politics.
The Chargers have said, in recent negotiations, that the Chargers don’t have a viable plan. The NFL has said the Chargers plan, which involves $300 million in public money is not good enough. Spanos has walked away from the negotiating table months ago, in hopes of cruising up north. It looked dire and San Diegans were resigned to the fact that our team was going to be ripped away. But alas, a small beacon of hope.

The Rams are definitely moving to Los Angeles while the Chargers have the option to return to San Diego or can basically take some time and decided if becoming the little sister of the Rams is more viable than building a new stadium in San Diego. The NFL also gave the Chargers an extra $100 million to put towards a stadium here, in case Spanos decides to make things work in the city that has been home to the Bolts since 1961.

Many outside San Diego don’t particularly empathize with our plight. The national perception is that San Diego is a beautiful city that has a fair-weather fan base, at best. Every time a Charger game was shown this season, the visiting team outdrew Chargers supporters. A Raiders game at the Q is basically a home game for the silver and black. These things are true. However, those facts should come with an asterisk.

San Diego is a beautiful city. It has perfect weather, glorious beaches, beautiful women and some of the best bars and restaurants in the country. Visiting fans love to make San Diego a destination. I attended Chargers vs. Broncos game a few years ago and I met a nice bunch of Broncos fans. They like to travel to one road game each season and their first pick is always San Diego. It’s beautiful and it’s a reprieve from a cold, snowy winter. If you live in the Midwest or East Coast and see a late November game in San Diego on the schedule, wouldn’t you have a desire to call a travel agent?
San Diego is also a Navy city, meaning that much of our population migrates from other places. 

Without the data in front of me, I would imagine that San Diego would have one of the lowest percentages of indigenous citizens in the NFL. People join the Navy and end up staying here. They aren’t going to abandon the teams of their youth, so they go to the Q dressed in Patriots or Cowboys gear. They may like the Chargers in passing but they surely will not cheer for them over the teams they grew up with.

San Diego does have passionate fans, fans that spend thousands on tickets each year. There are fans that live and die with the boys in blue and gold each Sunday. I am one of them, I know many others. We hurt right now, we feel betrayed and we feel hopeless. We do exist though. Perhaps not in the same numbers as many other franchises but we are here. We want to love our Chargers no matter what. We want our boys to stay in San Diego. Again, there is always hope.
The Los Angeles outcome is a bit of a surprise, but I am not sure how I feel. I assumed the Chargers would finalize some deal on Tuesday to leave my hometown. I figured that I would be a nomadic football fan, looking for a new team to root for, or perhaps finding other ways to fill my dance card on Sunday’s. There is still a chance for new generations to see Chargers football in San Diego and for fans to continue to cheer their beloved squad.

This whole experience has left a very bitter taste in my mouth. I know that sports are built around money and every owner wants to maximize profits. I also recognize a crook when I see one.
Dean Spanos is broke. He may not even have the funds to contribute to a stadium, let alone build one himself. So, instead of contributing to the palace of his dreams, he wants a city to build a state-of-the-art stadium while doubling his net worth and making no investment of his own. It seems almost criminal, yet this is the current landscape of professional sports.

Even if the Chargers stay in San Diego, I am not sure I want to remain a fan. I will always love the heroes I worshiped as a child and as an adult. Philip Rivers, Seau, Antonio Gates, Leslie O’Neal, Tony Martin and LaDainian Tomlinson will never leave my memories. Dennis Gibson batting Neil O’Donnell’s pass at the goal line is still one of the best moments of my life. However, some things are better left in the past. Sometimes the past needs to be abandoned and we need to move on. I think it might be that time. We all deserve better, Charger fans.