Abby Wambach brought out my American side

On Sunday, July 17, I found myself doing something I have rarely done throughout my lifetime.

I was cheering for the U.S.A in a major sporting event.

Before you go judging me, though I was born a U.S. citizen, having spent the first 18 years of my life overseas I’ve never felt particularly American.

Somehow that changed during the Women’s World Cup final between the U.S. and Japan.

My track record of cheering against the U.S. is quite extensive — cheering for Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 1994 men’s World Cup, wearing my lucky red socks to urge on the “Black Magic” yacht of Team New Zealand in the 1995 America’s Cup and backing Team Japan in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics.

In the early rounds of this year’s Women’s World Cup I spent my emotional energy backing my birth country, Australia, but also was hoping for victories for the teams representing other countries where I have lived — New Zealand, England, Japan and yes, the U.S.

New Zealand was the only one of those teams to fail to make the quarterfinals, leaving me in a pretty good situation with four teams to support in the final eight (and luckily none of them were playing each other).

Early on July 7 my hopes of seeing Australia advance were crushed by Sweden, but mere hours later something happened that flipped a switch inside of me.

Trailing 2-1 late in extra time against Brazil, for all intents and purposes the U.S. was on its way out of the World Cup.

Then came what will likely be among the most time-honored plays in American sports history.

Megan Rapinoe took the ball down the left wing, launched a cross from an immense distance and Abby Wambach was there to smash the ball into the net with her head.

I almost started crying.

Actually, I won’t even bother trying to put on a tough exterior for this one — I did start crying.

The highlight was played countless times throughout the rest of the World Cup, and tears started welling in my eyes during every replay as well.

I’ve cried many times while watching sports before (both tears of joy and agony), but usually my tears were reserved for an Australian national team or my favorite Australian Rules football team.

I guess I technically wasn’t jumping on any bandwagon with my life-long U.S. citizenship, but from then on my hopes were with Team U.S.A to go all the way and win its third World Cup.

I sat on the edge of my seat during the semifinal against France, where Wambach again came through with the tie-breaking goal, and later cheered on Japan in a brilliant win against Sweden.

Though the final may have consisted of a slight conflict on interest on my part — having spent all four years of high school in Japan I have a lot of strong feelings for the country — I watched the final as a full-fledged supporter of the U.S., cheering when they scored and screaming inappropriate words at my TV when the ball failed to go in during numerous close misses.

 Japan’s story in the wake of the devastating March earthquake and tsunami indeed made Japan a feel-good victor, but like everyone else cheering for the U.S. the result certainly felt nothing short of pure agony for me at the time.

Having grown up in the soccer world and watched as much World Cup action as I could from 1998 on, I have plenty of great World Cup watching memories, but it will take a near miracle to supplant those three seconds it took for the ball to travel from Rapinoe’s foot to Wambach’s head to the back of the net from the top of the list.

Fantasy baseball — not going so well

A year ago, I was better.

Or at least I think I was.

At this time in 2010, I was fighting my way up the ladder.

This year, I’m simply content being at the bottom of it.

Of course, I’m talking about fantasy baseball.

For the second year in a row, I’m in a league with a few people from work and a few from New York.

We have five Minnesotans and five New Yorkers, giving us an even balance.

Last season, I struggled to maintain any sort of consistency and entered the playoffs as the No. 6 seed.

There are 10 teams in this league, and the playoffs are based on how you finish during the regular season.

The first four teams play off for the top spot, with the next four playing for fifth place.

The last two teams are out of the playoffs.

The kicker about this league is the dues are based on how you finish. If you finish first, second or third, you win money. After that, you pay out. The amounts are determined by the final finishing.

So, needless to say, I had to pay a little money.

I entered the playoffs with the sixth seed, and I finished one ahead of that, taking fifth after winning a tie-breaker with former sports reporter Michael Brauer.

This year, there are some new players — and some of the same. We have added sports reporters Daniel Kerwin and Lance Knutson to round out the Minnesota crew of Ryan McGaughey, Lucas Knutson and myself.

I entered this season with optimism. I felt good about my draft and my current roster.
Little did I know I’d be stuck with a group of under-achievers.

First example would be Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes. An 18-game winner a year ago, Hughes made no impact for me early on.

Another prime example (and a source of my frustration) is Atlanta second baseman Dan Uggla. After hitting .287 with 33 home runs and 105 RBI a year ago, he’s hitting a measly .189 with 15 home runs and a mere 35 RBI.

Early on in the season, fueled by the now-injured Buster Posey, my team was right there. I was in the top four (which is where you want to be), and was poised to make a run at the prize money.

It wasn’t meant to be.

Our league is set up to be head-to-head. Each week, we face off against another team in 10 statistical categories — runs, home runs, RBI, stolen bases, averages, wins, losses, saves, strikeouts and earned run average.

I went through a three-week period that killed me.

I lost 10-0, 9-1 and 9-0 in consecutive weeks. That’s 1-28 in three weeks.

So, now I’m nearly in the cellar.

Thanks to Mr. Kerwin, who is currently in last place, I’m not the worst team in the league.

But I’m close.

After a nice win last week (even though it was a short week with the All-Star break), I’m a mere 2.5 games out of eighth place.

I can smell the playoffs.

But before Tuesday’s games, I’m currently losing 7-1. Not a great follow-up.

There is still six more weeks after this one before the playoffs begin. With any luck, that will mean six more wins. Or at least, that will give the team ahead of me six weeks to lose enough games to allow me to jump over them in the standings.

Either way, it will be a fun few weeks.

Rambis is out with Wolves

Kurt Rambis was officially fired on Tuesday.
After months of speculation, Minnesota Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn finally cut the ties.
Let’s be honest. Rambis wasn’t exactly taking the team in the right direction.
The Wolves were 32-132 under Rambis, and a dismal 17-65 last season.

Before the season started, I went on record and said the Wolves would be better this season.
I was sort of right. They improved from 15 wins to 17 wins.
But I was also terribly wrong. Outside of Kevin Love’s incredible double-double streak, there wasn’t much good about the team last season.

Yahoo! Sports reported June 22 that Rambis was already out.
This was before the draft.
This was also before Kahn made any sort of official announcement.
A lot has happened since then.

Ricky Rubio was officially announced days before, and Minnesota grabbed Arizona star Derrick Williams with the second overall pick.
In other words, the Wolves finally have their point guard of the future.

 
Williams is a little trickier.
He isn’t a true post player. But he does have size and is very athletic.

Sure, Michael Beasley was recently in the news for  a less-than-stellar reason, but a starting lineup that features Love, Rubio and Williams has to be better.
Right?
The answer isn’t so clear anymore.
Rambis was given a roster filled with unproven players.

There were a few veteran guys, like Luke Ridnour, but the youth and inexperience far outweighed the veteran presence.
Shoot, they even gave Darko Milicic a chance.
No one since the Pistons gave him a chance.

Detroit drafted him No. 2 behind LeBron James and ahead of players like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Now, he’s with the Wolves, hoping to rejuvenate his career.
But he won’t do it under Rambis.
I’m confident Rambis will catch on somewhere else. He learned from one of the best in the history of the game — Phil Jackson — and will be a head coach again.
And the Timberwolves will be a good team again.
Which will happen first? My money is on Rambis, who will be on a better team. Minnesota didn’t exactly hand him a roster, so next time, my guess is Rambis won’t settle.
The two could have had potential this season, but we’ll never know.
What I find interesting is the timing.
The NBA is in the midst of a lockout that could threaten the entire season.

If Kahn was going to make a move, he should have decided weeks ago.
The incoming coach should have had the opportunity to draft players to fit the new system. The Wolves made five trades during the draft, acquiring and losing players at an astonishing rate.
So, what does this all mean?
Let’s assume there will be NBA next season. That doesn’t seems like the most probable outcome at this point, but for the sake of arguments, let’s assume there will be a full 82-game season.
The Wolves will be in yet another rebuilding year.
Would they be winners under Rambis? Maybe not.

But I think he’s earned the right to try — for at least another year. 
With two new pieces and a roster full of players who have another year of experience, Minnesota could have been on the right track.
I agree, there should have been a change made. But the wrong guy was let go.

Meester’s singing moves crowd of 40,000

Riley Meester was out on the field, ready to sing his heart out.

Among the more than 40,000 fans who filled Target Field was Matt Huss.

A former Daily Globe sports reporter, it was Huss who made what Riley was about to do possible.

A 14-year-old from Ellsworth, Riley was chosen to sing the National Anthem before the Minnesota Twins faced the San Diego Padres on June 19; Father’s Day.

“I was incredibly nervous leading up to Riley’s performance,” Huss said. “It’s been well documented that Riley doesn’t much like to be around large groups and loud noises, and I started to worry that maybe the whole scene, sellout crowd in a huge stadium, might be overwhelming. But, yet again, Riley rose to the occasion.”

Riley was positioned behind home plate, looking out toward the vast Target Field outfield with his family surrounding him.

Riley delivered one of the best performances of the year, hitting every note and every word.

If he was nervous, he didn’t show it.

Huss first heard Riley sing while covering an Ellsworth boys’ basketball game a few years ago. Since then, he has kept up with the family, and with Riley.

On that special day in Minneapolis, Huss was reminded of the first time he heard Riley sing.

“Just like the first time I heard him sing, in the Ellsworth High School gymnasium, I got chills and goose bumps,” he said. “It was incredible. I clapped so hard that my hands started hurting. I was so happy that he did well and that he had fun. The best moment was when the crowd erupted and Riley smiled, raised his arms above his head in triumph, and basked in the applause.”

Huss wasn’t the only one taken with Riley’s performance. The players on the field were impressed as well. So much so that the Padres players greeted Riley as he went past.

Huss’ wife, Ruth, took a YouTube video of the performance, which instantly drew a large number of views.

“My wife, Ruth, ignored the Target Field ushers and rushed to the front row behind San Diego’s dugout to shoot a video of Riley’s performance,” Huss explained. “When she returned to her seat, she told me that she saw women crying. Then, when the Meester family left the field, the surrounding sections gave them a standing ovation. Almost immediately, on both Facebook and Twitter, people attending the game were publishing emotional reactions many admitted tears, and all of them gushed about both Riley’s ability to sing and inspire. I didn’t expect the YouTube video would reach 3,000 views by the end of the week, and I didn’t expect to see Riley mentioned so often on social media sites, but I’m not surprised. He’s a special kid.”

One letter to the Star Tribune read:

“As good as the Twins are playing and with another win on Sunday it pales in comparison to what is really important. The (14) year old Autistic young man that sang the National Anthem to start the game was beyond wonderful. There was not a dry eye around where my wife and I were standing. His singing with all his heart and enthusiasm was better than any so called superstar trying to outdo all others. He sang with all his heart and soul and it could not have been more perfect. Thanks to his parents for their work and dedication and to the Twins to let us all enjoy.”

Another blog, posted on www.gardenweb.com said:

“It was hard not to cry, but I think I was wiping my eyes some…jaw got sore clenching it tight too….

“I wasn’t the only one.

“Applause/ovation after that was enormous…”

Riley received the loudest ovation of the day. The fans stayed on their feet until he was off the field, creating a moment that touched and inspired every person at Target Field.

I know it’s a day I’ll never forget.