We’re Talking About Autographs?!

I was watching the Braves Sunday night on ESPN when the breaking news hit that Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel was allegedly paid for signing autographs. My initial reaction was muted. “Well, that’s not good,” I thought, before returning to worrying about whether or not the Braves bullpen could hold a lead. After all, college athletes seem to be placed under investigation by the NCAA as often as networks launch new crime procedurals. (He makes a lot of movies.)

Apparently, though, my lack of overwhelming shock and outrage was wrong. WAY wrong. At least in ESPN’s eyes. Every third story on SportsCenter that night was about Manziel. They had full, team coverage of what happened, what this meant for his college season, what this meant for the Aggies, what this meant for his draft status (because signing autographs potentially hurts your throwing arm??), and, at the end, a throwaway, 30-second debate about if it’s fair that college kids can’t make money off their success.

As I was watching, I just kept thinking, we’re talking about autographs? I mean, we’re talking about autographs! We’ve got wall-to-wall coverage of a kid signing his name to a mini-helmet? I didn’t get why it was such a big deal.

Ok, that’s not true. I did. As an “amateur” college athlete, it’s illegal for Manziel to profit from his athletic endeavors, if he did in fact accept money for signing. And if he did, he could possibly be suspended for at least part of the Aggies’ season, which would be huge news. (You gonna suspend him for the Alabama game, NCAA? One of your biggest of the year? Really?)

But, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t get it. He allegedly accepted $7,500 for what? To buy rims for his car? How terribly nefarious. Thank you, NCAA, for saving the great game of college football from such malfeasance.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate that the NCAA’s “amateurism” rules are what Manziel agreed to adhere to when he decided to play college athletics, like them or not, so he shouldn’t act like he exists beyond them.

But my knee jerk reaction to this story is to say, “Lay off the kid.” (Which is tough for me to say as a Longhorn.) He makes millions of dollars for his school. He should be allowed to make some for himself, too. After all, Texas A&M reportedly charged boosters tens of thousands just to sit at the same table as Manziel. And Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin saw his salary double to over $3M after last season’s Johnny Football inspired success. Surely we can let the kid earn some money to perform an Xzibit-less pimping of his ride, questionable spending priorities aside. (Hope you’re saving, too, Mr. Football.)

However, I don’t think the Aggies are to blame. (That’s even harder to say.) Yes, he’s making millions for them, but did you know, based on the latest data, they profit roughly $9M from their entire athletic program, which has a budget close to $90M. In that same story, USA Today reports that only 22 college athletic programs actually made any profit at all. College sports aren’t the cash cow they seem. They make a lot, but they spend a lot, too. Is it reasonable, then, to suggest all college athletic programs should compensate their athletes? (FYI, my alma mater is worth the most! Woohoo! We’re number 1… at something at least….)

I also agree with those that say colleges give a lot to their athletes when they provide them with free education, room, and board. Look at how big a story college loan debt has become. So, in that sense, it’s not like A&M is exploiting Manziel. He and his teammates give to A&M with their revenue and prestige generation, and A&M gives back with an education. (Resist desire to quip how worthless it is….)

No, I point my finger at everyone’s favorite culprit: the NCAA. Which is totally justified! I don’t understand what they have to gain by not allowing athletes to make money off their success? They can’t still be arguing that commercialization ruins sport. If so, than stop signing massive TV contracts, stop selling merchandise, and take the corporate names off the bowl games.

Are they worried the compensation won’t be fair and equitable, with some athletes, sports, and schools benefitting more than others? Or maybe they’re worried increased cash flow will attract unsavory, money-hungry stooges to their hallowed institutions? Or, worst of all, that players will stop playing solely for the “love of the game”?

And which of those above scenarios hasn’t happened already?

Those reasons are why I think college athletes should be able to earn endorsements and rewards like any other athlete. Athletic endorsement deals are typically merit based, earned by those who excel as a result of hard work and perseverance, both traits to be rewarded. Yes, the amount might be disproportionate for some, but stop trying to make everything equal. That’s not the American capitalist way, commie! (Note: That statement is in no way a personal endorsement of a political system.)

(Also, I know athlete endorsements aren’t exclusive to ability. I won’t deny personality and appearance have something to do with them. Why else is C.J. Wilson selling stuff on my TV?) (That’s mean.) (Also, don’t get me started on PED cheaters….)

Here’s an idea: why not have a percentage of the endorsement money these athletes earn go to the school? Why not have the University function like the player’s agent so the school gets a cut? That way, instead of Manziel’s high school buddy brokering an autograph signing, A&M’s athletic department is. And don’t think for a second these schools don’t have some smarmy dude capable of cut throat negotiations immediately at hand to do this. Look no further than their recruiting departments.

Heck, maybe the NCAA even gets a tiny cut. It could happen! I mean, the NCAA didn’t even allow athletic scholarships, that’s how “committed” they were to amateurism, so we know change is possible. Otherwise, right now, they kind of just look like some greedy so-and-sos who don’t want to share with the kids their making money off of. Remember, without student athletes, there is no NCAA. Why not let them have a piece of their pie?

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The Final Season: Last Game With Dad

Atlanta 5 – Washington 1, CJ: 1-2, RBI (60), R, 2 BB

Tonight I watched the last Braves’ game I will watch this regular season with my dad. Without cable (I’m choosing to be ahead of the curve and watch everything online – oh, and I’m frugal), any Braves’ game on ESPN I usually watch at my folks’ place. I know I’ve talked about it before, particularly how they always seem to loose when I watch with my dad. It’s seriously uncanny. But, since ESPN won’t show anymore Braves game this regular season, it’s the last game I will watch this season with my dad.

One thing I know for sure, it certainly won’t be the last regular season Braves game we ever watch together. I’ll be right back, next season, checking them out his place when I can and when I need to. After all, now I get to watch guys like Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, and Kris Medlen develop. That should be fun.

And I’ll most definitely be watching my dad. If you haven’t noticed, he’s a recurring character in these little posts o’ mine. And that’s because he really is the reason I love baseball so much. He’s who introduced me to the sport. The one who let me stay up late with him to watch those World Series games all those years back, which I wrote about at the start of this marathon. (Thanks, Barry Bonds!) He’s the one who’s taken me to games in Houston and Atlanta and Pittsburgh and San Francisco. He’s the one that’s taught me the most about the game.

And I’ve had the best time this year talking with him about what it was like for him growing up as a fan. What it meant to see the Pirates on the game of the week only a handful of times a year. What it meant to listen to Bob Prince every day and to watch Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargel carry his team.

Speaking of Prince, I want to share one last story my dad told me about him. (My dad considers himself very lucky to have had Prince as his guy.) He told me once that his favorite call of all time from Prince, the one he still remembers to this day and makes him smile when he thinks of it, was actually a game the Pirates lost. He was listening on the radio, and it was the bottom of the ninth, all tied up, the Pirates in the field. He told me the pitcher’s name, but I forget. But it went something like this: “So-and-so delivers, and it’s a homerun and we’re going to lose it.” When you imagine that sentence being said, imagine it in a very dry, monotone voice with absolutely no hint of emotion. My dad says Prince didn’t even flinch. Didn’t take a breath from delivers to homerun. Straight on through that sentence. Must have been a monster of a homerun to know it instantly. If it were me listening, after the shock wore off, I probably would have laughed like my dad did.

But I know I’ve mentioned before how I love that baseball is a father, son game. And that’s what it was for me and my dad, too. (Except I was a girl, so… not exactly the same… but practically the same.) It was a sport that brought us together. That we bonded over. To this day, I believe it’s why I am closer with my dad than my sister is. We have baseball to discuss even when there’s nothing else.

And I know how much he loves baseball. He’s even teared up when talking about it and how happy he is that I love it as much as he does. Now, I should mention, my father is an emotional guy. I haven’t seen him cry a lot, but I have seen him cry before, so seeing him get teary eyed doesn’t jolt me that much, but it still certainly conveys the joy he feels at sitting there watching a game with me. And I love that he always has something new to teach me. I’ve been watching this game for almost 20 years now, most of the time with him, and he still has little tidbits of information to pass my way. That reminds me there is still so much I don’t know about this deceptively simple game. And hopefully he’ll be around for a long time to teach me more.

So it’s been another good year for me and my dad, just sitting and watching the Braves. Lose, mostly, but still worth it. And so far, as the season’s gone by and Chipper and the team have done what they have, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve felt kind of like a kid again, like I did when I would watch them every night on TBS.

And it’s great that they’ve been relevant so far this season. If they had really struggled and Chipper had gone out on a mediocre team, that would have been rough. So here’s hoping they can pull off enough wins these last few games to make the playoffs and keep this ride going.

Oh, and thanks, Dad, for letting me use your TV.

The Final Season: Sports and Gambling

Atlanta 7 – Washington 5; CJ: DNP

I’ve been “watching” most games on ESPN’s Gamecast again this year. It’s this online, pop-up looking window that tracks every pitch in real time to show me how the Braves are doing. No video. Just graphics and numbers, but it’s super easy to check while I’m working on something. I’m also cable-less, so it’s kind of my only option. Although, even if I did have cable, I’d still only see a handful of Braves games when they were nationally televised, so it’s not really cables fault. I could buy online streaming access through MLB.com, and I still might. Maybe after the All-Star break. I suppose, deep down, I’m not as dedicated of a fan as I think I am.

I kind of like Gamecast, though, even if it’s obviously not as good as actually watching. However, I think there are some benefits to watching a pitch tracker. I think I can see patterns sooner than if I was watching games on TV. For example, it tracks pitching locations, so I can see when pitchers are missing their spots. So if Tim Hudson is on the mound, who’s a sinker ball pitcher, I can tell pretty early if his pitches are or aren’t sinking, but when I watch on TV, I can lose some of that detail because there is so much stuff to see. Or maybe I’m just crazy.

Anyway, on to the point of this post. A couple seasons ago, Gamecast would predict the winner of each game. It doesn’t anymore, but the window used to show a percentage likelihood of each team winning. It always struck me as being pretty arbitrary, but ESPN tried to make it look like an exact science, and I imagine they paid someone a great deal of money to develop some sort of algorithm for that little graphic.

But as I would look at it, I would think, ‘It’s a sport.’ You can’t predict it. And it was obvious the graphic couldn’t. It would sit at 67% for one team to win, but then the other team would have a big inning, and it would swing in the complete opposite direction. I know it was meant to say, ‘Okay, now the Braves have a 67% chance of winning.’ But I always wanted to respond, ‘Oh really? Because five minutes ago, you were convinced the Phillies would win. What makes you so sure this time, Mr. Graphic?” (And yes, I do talk to my computer.) The whole thing seemed silly and unnecessary.

Yet, there’s so much money invested in people and technology that think they can predict sports, particularly for those who set line scores. Not to sound cynical, but I bet (pun intended) the vast majority of analysis and formulation of predictions is just for the gambling world. And, as I am not a part of the gambling world, I think it’s all superfluous.

When I watch analysts blabber on, I’m usually bored to tears waiting for them to get out of the way so they can just play the game, and then I scoff when one of them gets it so obviously wrong in hindsight. But what I don’t see is someone sitting at home, hanging on every word while they decide which way to bet. Or, while I’m scoffing, that same someone after the game crying or freaking out because they’ve just lost enough money to ruin their life.

I wonder if my imagination is way off, but then I remind myself how big the sports gambling world is. Then I wonder if it’s what keeps the sports media world going around, if that’s the community that craves the analysis. Them and the fantasy sports world, which also can include gambling. If so, no wonder I don’t see the point of analysts. Also, if that’s true, I should stop hoping that one day SportsCenter will go back to its old highlight format so I can see the Cubs-Astros highlight.

I bet (that’s a hard pun not to make), just as sports gamblers are likely avid SportsCenter viewers, they’re also the ones that likely eat up the hardcore sports blogs. I never understood why I needed to know Robinson Cano’s average during home games on a Sunday afternoon versus night, but then I don’t have money riding on the outcome.

So much information. Information overload, really. Yet, no one’s gotten any better at predicting outcomes. I think, at least. If you could somehow compare gambling ‘winners’ today versus ‘winners’ 50 years ago, I wonder  if the results would be any different. Because all that information, it was always there. The minute statistics could have been tallied from the first day a game was played.

But you can never account for the human element. You can’t account for the pitcher holding the ball just a little different that day and putting just the right amount of pressure on one of his fingers to throw the fastball of his life against the league’s best hitter to get him out when he needed it most, even though the statistics told you that hitter would best that pitcher 9 times out of 10. But there are no absolutes in sports performances. At the least, there is always the one time out of 10. Which is why I will never gamble. Not seriously. A friendly dollar or so here maybe. But gambling, it doesn’t make sense to me. I could never bet on something as inconsistent as a human being.

The Final Season: Root, Root, Root for the Cubbies

Atlanta 3 – Nationals 2; CJ: DNP

As a quick continuation of yesterday’s post, I have a few final thoughts on why the Braves and why TBS. Because, as some people like to point out to me, there was another baseball team that had almost every one of their games broadcast nationally. The good ol’ Chicago Cubs on WGN, back when WGN was a local station, with local Chicago news, that fancied itself a national cable channel. Not sure how that came about, but I know I liked it as a baseball fan. On those rare days that Atlanta was off or not being broadcast, I could usually still get my baseball fix in thanks to WGN. So, if I was a routine watcher of WGN, why didn’t I pick the Cubs over the Braves as the team I swore my allegiance to?

Winning. It’s really that simple. What else can I say? I chose the Braves or the Cubs because, as really my only two options that were televised consistently, one team won all the time and the other team… didn’t.  And when you’re 9, it’s that simple. It’s kind of sad, when you think about it, that I couldn’t get the Astros or Rangers on the TV in Austin that often, since they are better geographical matches for my fandom. But, again, at that time Fox only showed one “Game of the Week ,” and it seemed rarely to be the Rangers or Astros. Most often it was teams from all over the country. So that doesn’t exactly make for much of a following of these other teams. But TBS and WGN probably created a legion of fans that have never set foot in Chicago or Atlanta. I know this is true because I’ve met a handful of them in the places I’ve traveled. The Cubs are very popular in Central America, or at least in Belize, Costa Rica, and Honduras. Thanks to WGN.

And again, the Braves won, and I preferred a winner. I know Cubs fans embrace their lovable losers, but as I wasn’t connected to Chicago, and I was cherry picking the sports teams I followed, I went with the winning Atlanta Braves.

I used to love when the Braves were on both WGN and TBS, because I would – no lie – flip back and forth to hear how the different announcers were handling the games. And neither set held back on their biases. It was funny. I’ll have to spend another post discussing the Braves announcers, as they were indirectly a big influence on me.

But Harry Caray – god love ‘um. How I wish I had heard his voice earlier in life. Because, when I became a fan, he was older and just sounded a bit confused at times. For instance, on two occasions, he called Ryne Sandberg Ron Santo, whom my Dad informed me later after my inquiry into who this Santo was. Apparently Santo had been a SS or 2B for the Cubs about a decade earlier. I still laugh when I think about that. I’ll never forget it. The glasses, the voice, and Ron Santo. Poor guy. The memory just had to seriously be going.

So long story short, I prefer to think of Caray in his peak years, when he was on point with every call – assuming he ever was. Him sitting their spouting off useful baseball knowledge, then graciously standing up to sing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame” as only he could. Loved, loved, loved listening to Caray sing that during the seventh inning stretch. I would sing right along to one of my favorite baseball traditions. And I’m okay with celebrities doing it now, but it’s not the same of course.

But Caray was a unique baseball guy and announcing talent. Despite all that, I still chose the Braves. Again, despite the beautiful ivy and the traditions and the iconic announcer, I chose the winner. Again, at nine, it was that easy.

The Final Season: My Almost Sports Career

Washington 8 – Atlanta 4; CJ: DNP

The losing continues, so I’m going to write about something completely unrelated today – me. First tidbit: I studied journalism at the University of Texas. But not your highbrow, hoity-toity journalism. I studied sports journalism. Why? Because I wanted to be a sports reporter. Obviously.

Around the second grade, one of my parent’s friends asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I answered ‘writer,’ because at that age I had already started sitting at the family computer for hours just typing away on my silly, little stories. The adult responded by saying, ‘Oh, you mean like a journalist. That’s a career you can have as a writer.’ Impressionable young me was like, ‘Oh, okay. Yeah, I guess I want to be a journalist if that’s how someone can make a living writing.’ Okay, I probably didn’t responded exactly like that, but the conversation obviously made an impression on me, as I can still remember it almost verbatim 20+ years later.

And it’s pretty fair to say that I started at about that age telling people I wanted to be a journalist. Only writing about the boring news stuff my parents watched seemed terrible. I was never inspired to watch the evening news with them. But ESPN. That I could watch all day, every day. And I thought, the people on that channel are reporters, too, right? (Refrain from cynical answer.) That’s it, then. I’ll be a sports reporter.

And so I went for it. I became Sports Editor of my high school paper, and Sports Director of the student television station in college. One of my main responsibilities there was producing a weekly Longhorn sports highlight show, which I enjoyed immensely. The station also broadcast UT volleyball and softball games live, and I sideline reported for those. I had my dream, and I working hard for it.

But something strange happened after graduation. When it came time to get a job reporting, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to move to a small town in the North East and make $17,000 a year. I didn’t want to work weird hours, and on holidays, and have to ask annoyed athletes the same questions over and over again. The truth was, I just didn’t love it like I thought I would.

Plus the glimpse of the job I got while interning at a local station wasn’t the romanticized vision I had created as a child. It was all so… ordinary. I hadn’t really thought about the day-to-day grind and if I’d be willing to do that. I also hadn’t realized the stories would be the same year-to-year, just with new faces. It didn’t appeal to me like I thought it would. Like I said before, I didn’t love it, and I was a young idealist who thought that should be a component of a job.

I also hadn’t realized the extra challenge being a woman brought me, but I learned it firsthand in college. I watched all the guys around me get treated differently. Was told by multiple guys that when they saw me on TV they didn’t listen to what I said. One dude even told me that he disliked girls on TV when it came to sports, and he wished they’d just stop talking. How he never knew if he could believe the girl on the screen actually knew what she was talking about. Comments like those helped me see that I didn’t want to fight my way into a bear trap. Or bee’s nest. Or whatever analogy you want to use. Some women can do it, but I’m not a fighter or a trailblazer. I admire those that can, but it doesn’t appeal to me.

So, after school, I chose a different path and never looked back. Well, I shouldn’t say never. I am looking back now. And sometimes I do wonder if I made a mistake. Should I have at least tried reporting? Maybe for a year just to see if it sparked a desire after all. But then that would have altered the course of my life, and the idea of that makes the decision feel right.

And it was right. You know how I know? When I got that sports reporting job offer, I recoiled at the thought of living in a small town and making $17,000 a year, even if it was just, hopefully, temporary. I contrast that with the idea of making $17,000 a year writing fiction, and I’d take that it in a second, no hesitation. Heck, I’d be over the moon to make that much writing. And that’s taught me a good lesson: if you really love something, you’ll be content doing it for little to no compensation or recognition because you’re doing it for yourself, because it makes you feel complete.

Sometimes I joke and say that I blame the Atlanta Braves for all of it, for trying to be a sports reporter than not doing it. After all, becoming a fan of the team really cemented my love of following all sports, and that led to wanting to report on them. But I can’t. I mean, there’s no one to blame really. I was just a kid who loved sports and thought it would be cool to talk about them for a living. And I still think it would be. I just found something that I think would be a lot cooler. For me, at least.

The Final Season: ESPN’s Gamecasts

Atlanta 6 – Cincinnati 2; CJ: 1-4, RBI (23), R

A few quick thoughts as I sit here “watching” the Braves game via ESPN’s Gamecast. It’s more like tracking, really, as I don’t actually see anything, except descriptions of plays and the occasional graphic baseball zooming around.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have cable. It was getting pricey, so I made the decision to watch my TV online, which I think more and more people are doing. The only bummer – not a lot of sports being simulcast online yet. Some, are like via ESPN3 and a few games a week on MLB.com, but there’s definitely not near the selection online yet. So, for the Braves games, that leaves me, really, with one option to follow their games on a daily basis.

I don’t mind it. It’s not as good as watching, of course, but then again, it’s not like I really have the option to watch the Braves on TV anymore anyway. They’ve long stopped being recurrently broadcast on TBS, and we don’t get many of their games here on other stations. And while it sucks not being able to watch them every day, it doesn’t bother me too much. For one thing, when the games are on national TV, it’s an excuse to go see my family and watch the game with my dad on his tube.

But when TV isn’t at all an option, I certainly appreciate the Gamecasts. It’s easy to do other things while it’s open on my computer screen, be it housework, homework, cooking, cleaning, etc. And they show you pitch by pitch, so you get a really good idea of how things are going, like when the bullpen is struggling or which hitter is hot.

I equate it to listening to the radio. Or, well, I imagine that’s how it is. I only very, very rarely listen to baseball games on the radio, so I’m not that familiar with them, but it’s got to be similar to tracking online. You know the facts the announcer is telling you, but you can create your own picture in your mind.

Lot of information crammed into those pop-up game windows to help you with that picture. Probably more than I need. And they update fairly quickly, so I feel like it’s a good way to know what’s happening in the game right then.

The only bummer is when something actually does happen. Not because I miss seeing it with my own eyes, but because it takes a while for it to post on the Gamecast. It’s definitely getting better, but sometimes you have to wait (what feels like) forever to see what actually did happen. I can always tell when something did, mainly because it’s taking forever for the site to update. It’s nerve wracking when it moves slow,especially in close games.

The other bummer of not having ESPN, or the like, is not knowing how the other teams are doing. I catch a bit of it from time to time, but I don’t see the big picture like I used to. Dan Patrick commenting on how a team had lost nine of ten, or ‘cooled off,’ always let me know where a team currently fell in the grand scheme of things. And I don’t want to – or have time to – read every box score. I see scores in passing while on the hunt for the Braves score, but that’s about it. I look at the standings from time to time, but I don’t have a sense of why the Orioles are in first place. Pitching? Defenese? Hitting? Combination of all 3? SportsCenter was good for that.

Oh well, at least I get to know very closely how the Braves are doing. And as long as my dad has cable (he’s my saving grace), I’m not going to rush to get cable back.

The Final Season: How I Help My Team Win

Philly 4 – Atlanta 2; CJ: DNP

I’m convinced the Braves don’t win when I watch them on TV.

Before I take that thought further, allow me to offer some background. I don’t have cable. I had cable but canceled it because I found I could watch most of the TV I wanted online. That, and it was crazy expensive. I excised it three years ago and haven’t missed it. It does mean, however, when the Braves are on a national broadcast, be it ESPN, MLB, FSN, etc., I can’t watch them from the comfort of my home. Instead, I have to pester a friend or go to a bar or, more than likely, head over to my folks’ house. That way I can watch the game with my dad and let my mom feed me. Tonight was one of those nights. Got it?

So, as I was saying, over the past couple years, I swear to you, they don’t win when I make a special trek to see them. Honestly. It’s like they know I’m watching and tank. And, trust me, that idea is in no way crazy. It did get me thinking, however, about other ideas I’ve had about the Braves that were crazy.

Something I love about baseball is the superstitions. They’re prolific in baseball. And I’m not talking about player superstitions. (Although that, come to think of it, would make for a good post.) I’m talking about fan superstitions, of which I can speak from personal experience, yet I know I’m not alone in having.

Let’s see… what haven’t I don’t to help my team win? I wouldn’t allow myself to feel excited about the Braves playing well against St. Louis in the ’96 NLCS, when they came from 3-1 down to win the series, because, if I showed excitement, it would lead to their demise. More generally, if Atlanta started a rally, I wouldn’t move from my spot on the couch. To be exact, I wouldn’t move at all. I would hold the same position – arms crossed or legs bent under me or arm resting on a pillow, whatever position – until the hitting stopped no matter how uncomfortable it was. (I would also move when it became apparent my position was having no impact on the outcome of the game, despite my deeply held belief to the contrary.)

But what sports fan hasn’t done this? Who hasn’t continued what they were doing until the impact faded? Who hasn’t slowly flipped through a magazine because you’ve noticed every time you turn the page the pitcher throws a ball? Sure it gets tricky when you get to the end of the magazine, but you find a way to make it stretch. After all, you gotta do what you can for the team.

For me, in the 90’s, that meant one surefire routine to help the Braves win. Before a game, I would head out to the basketball hoop in the driveway and shoot around. But not without rhyme or reason. I had a pattern. I went ‘around the world,’ as it was called in basketball practice, shooting from various spots around the lane. And I completed each Earthly rotation twice. And once that was complete, I would tempt fate to reveal itself. I would pick a spot on the court, usually from one of the elbows, and I would stand there and think, ‘If I make this shot, the Braves will win tonight. And if I don’t, they won’t.’ Then I would dribble a few times, breath deep, and take my shot.

Now, as a youngster, that shot truly determined the rest of my evening. Ok, maybe not truly. I did know, deep down, that shot had no impact on the outcome of the game.  I mean, I did make that shot a lot (I practiced it enough), yet there were plenty of times they wouldn’t win. And, of course, vice versa. But it was nice to think I had some cosmic way to influence the outcome, that I was doing my part as a fan.

The playoffs were different. After all, those games mattered. They weren’t on TBS. They were on the big stations. And, as there was more at stake, victory was paramount. So, naturally, the routine had to change to reflect the gravity of the situation. I would still complete my trip around the world, twice. But, during my fate predicting shot, I’d take a couple steps in or just plain go for the high percentage shot off the backboard. And, well, I often had a tendency to disagree with fate.

“Ok, if I make this shot, they win.”

Miss.

“No, that one didn’t count. If I make this shot, they win.”

Miss.

“This one. If I make this one, they win.”

Make.

“See, I knew they were going to win.”

That way, in my world, the Braves won every postseason game they ever played.

Now, I have one particular memory with this routine where no do-over was necessary. And it happened, of course, during the 1995 World Series. I swear to you, on the night of Game Six, I made the determining shot on my first try. No do-overs. No wait, wait, that didn’t count. I took one shot, I made it, and they won. It blew my little mind, as if God was speaking directly to me and letting me know they’d win. Had this not happened, I probably would have abandoned this routine a lot sooner. Instead, I inadvertently sentenced myself to five more years, all through high school, of tempting fate before games.

Good thing now all I have to do is not watch them on TV to guarantee a victory.