Patriots Week Two Recap

Bill Belichick is no genius
Smug Bill – Guess he showed his critics this week

In week two, the Patriots punched Chicken Little square in the mouth, beating the Minnesota Vikings 30 – 7 on the Vike’s home turf.

Wild speculation about the demise of the New England Patriots ran amok last week after the team failed to show up for the last 30 minutes of football against the Dolphins. In week two the Patriots showed up for the last 50 minutes of football and regained most of their rightful respect as a top tier team in the AFC.

Still, one wonders where they were in the first ten minutes of the game. Things grew tense when Minnesota drew first blood. What made it worse is the manner in which they did so.

Every so often Bill Belichick likes to send Shane Vereen out of the backfield and up the sideline on a wheel route. I think the play has worked all of once for a .05% success rate. Then yesterday, the Vikings ran the same play with Matt Asiata. You’d think the defense would’ve recognized the play, but no, it went for a touchdown. Maybe the Patriots run that play so much because the D can’t stop it in practice, so they can only assume it’s the golden ticket to TD land. (Note to the coaching staff: it only works against the Patriot’s defense.)

The Patriots offense responded with a three and out.

Then the defense came to life with a pick (nearly six) by Devin McCourty. Stevan Ridley followed with a touchdown run from the one.

From that point forward, the Patriots controlled the game, forcing three more turnovers, as well as a FG blocked and returned for a touchdown, and the offense even managed a passing touchdown (Brady to Edelman). Gostkowski kicked three field goals, too. The Vikings never saw the end zone again.

Patriots Nation are now packing their bags for a trip to Arizona in February.

Not so fast, my friends. This is a Vikings team led by all world backup quarterback Matt Cassel. He showcased why he earned that label by providing four interceptions on some really poorly thrown balls. But he had to keep throwing because the Viking’s running game was completely destroyed when they decided to deactivate Adrian Peterson for the game. AP truly is all world and the Patriots were the beneficiaries of a real gift in his not playing. (I don’t take lightly the off-the-field situation surrounding Peterson, btw, but it’s a discussion for another time after all the facts – and videos – have been reviewed.)

If there’s anything to be learned from the week two performance, it’s that the defense isn’t dead in the water and they still have a knack for creating the turnover, especially with Chandler Jones on the edge and Revis Island covering a receiver older than he is. Special teams looked like they belonged as part of a professional organization. The offense is still very concerning, though.

Earlier this summer, Brady said he would quit playing when he started sucking. He’s walking a very fine line this year between being excused for having limited weapons and a bad O-line, and just plain not making the plays or throws that should be made…or put simply: sucking. However, it’s still too early to make any kind of judgment on his playing. Let’s revisit this after week five, when all the pieces have more time to gel and there’s a larger sample size.

Gronk is still clearly not close to being 100% and the receiving corps still look and play very small. Except you, Burger Tyme Edelman, you’re the man. But the passing attack can’t live on burgers alone.

Dobson, Amendola and LaFell need to pick up the level of play if the Patriots are going to sustain any drives and put the ball in the end zone.

Overall, I still see the Patriots as a .500 team at this point. They’ve shown they can let things go horribly wrong (Miami) and that they can put the screws to a team that is missing their MVP running back and has no quarterback so to speak (Minnesota). With Oakland coming to Gillette next weekend, there’s no real chance to show improvement. The Raiders are relying on a rookie QB who has even less weapons at his disposal than Brady.

But in regards to the Patriots keeping pace with the Red Sox in the cellar of the AFC East, the sky most certainly is not falling.

—Ryan Varney

Patriots Week – or Is That Weak? – One Recap

Bill Belichick is no genius
Smug Bill – Look into his eyes

Last week I picked the New England Patriots to win the Super Bowl. Later, I found out ESPN host Mike Greenberg of Mike and Mike in the Morning also picked the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. The cumulative effect of these two predictions may be too massive a hurdle for the 2014 Patriots to overcome. Forget the play on the field. This dual hex is crippling to the Patriots’ chances at winning even a game this season (forget the Super Bowl).

Perhaps Tom (not so) Terrific agrees with my sentiment, uttering this eye-opening statement after the 33-20 shellacking at the hands of the Miami Dolphins, “You can’t go out there and play the way we played today and think you will win a game this season…”

Could the Patriots actually go defeated this year?

AL East and AFC East standings
Boston Strong

It wouldn’t be a first in Boston this year as the last place Red Sox have essentially gone defeated a year after winning the World Series (see standings to the right).

Still, it’s unlikely that a group of veteran players like Vince Wilfork, Tom Brady, Darrelle Revis and Jerod Mayo will fail to produce a victory. But with the horrible coaching schematics and game planning along with obviously under-conditioned players, it could happen.

One has to think the Evil Genius Bill Belichick will move to improve the poor planning that went into creating turmoil in an already weak offensive line (he opted to trade Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins a week before the season started). Mankins wouldn’t have made yesterday’s game any closer, but maybe playing a consistent set of players instead of rotating so much inexperience in and out of the O line would have.

The Patriots started the game looking good, cruising to a 20-10 halftime lead. Then they proceeded to give up 23 straight points while looking absolutely gassed and overwhelmed, left behind in the (Cameron) Wake of the Dolphins. Pun intended. (This piece is honoring the quality of play produced by the Patriots yesterday, btw.)

The offensive offensive line was not the only problem. As it turns out, Revis Island is located somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle, where incompletions, pass break-ups and interceptions disappear into Mike Wallace touchdowns. And why wasn’t there a game plan for defending against that future HOF running back (read with sarcastic inflection) Knowshon Moreno?

I have a notion that most Pats fans know Knowshon, considering he gashed them for over 200 yards last year while with the Broncos.

And keep in mind the Patriots are heading to the land of Adrian “All Day” Peterson next week. He really is a future Hall-of-Famer and just might break the single game rushing record if he suits up (fantasy owners take note).

Needless to say, the Patriots may want to work on their off day this week and study up extra hard on the Vikings. But after having five months to game plan for the Dolphins, it remains to be seen whether five days is enough time to plan for the Matt Cassel-led Vikes.

The good news is that New England really can’t play much worse than they did in the second half against Miami. So there’s plenty of upside left for the season. I still expect them to win the division, but another performance or two like this one and I’m bailing on that idea faster than Josh Gordon can grab a quick joint, er, car sale (was that too blunt?).

Stay tuned for more glowing reviews of the 2014 Patriots as the season progresses. For the record, I plan to conduct a little experiment during next week’s game by standing barefoot on a pile of glass shards during the Patriots game. We’ll see what hurts less, the Pats play or the glass.

Or maybe it’s just your eyes that hurt…from reading this.

—Ryan Varney

2014 NFL Season Predictions

NFL Logo
Expert predictions for the 2014 NFL season

The 2014 NFL season kicks off tonight with the Green Bay Packers taking on the 12th Man, er, the Seattle Seahawks. Could very well be a preview of the NFC Championship game… No matter what, though, the game is sure to get pro football kicked off with a deafening bang.

Now that all the preseason exhibitions, practices and roster moves are behind us, I’ll give you my expert take on how the season will shape up.

Regular Season Predictions

X = Division Champion; Y = Wild Card

AFC North NFC North
x-Pittsburgh (10-6) x-Green Bay (11-5)
y-Cincinnati (9-7) y-Chicago (9-7)
Baltimore (9-7) Detroit (7-9)
Cleveland (4-12) Minnesota (5-11)
AFC East NFC East
x-New England (11-5) x-Philadelphia (10-6)
NY Jets (9-7) NY Giants (7-9)
Miami (8-8) Washington (6-10)
Buffalo (4-12) Dallas (4-12)
AFC South NFC South
x-Indianapolis (10-6) x-New Orleans (11-5)
Tennessee (8-8) Tampa Bay (9-7)
Houston (7-9) Atlanta (8-8)
Jacksonville (3-13) Carolina (7-9)
AFC West NFC West
x-Denver (14-2) x-Seattle (12-4)
y-San Diego (10-6) y-Arizona (9-7)
Kansas City (8-8) San Francisco (9-7)
Oakland (4-12) St. Louis (4-12)

AFC Playoffs

Wild Card

San Diego Chargers over Pittsburgh Steelers
Indianapolis Colts over Cincinnati Bengals

Divisional Round

San Diego Chargers over Denver Broncos
New England Patriots over Indianapolis Colts

AFC Championship

New England Patriots over San Diego Chargers

NFC Playoffs

Wild Card

Green Bay Packers over Arizona Cardinals
Philadelphia Eagles over Chicago Bears

Divisional Round

Green Bay Packers over Seattle Seahawks
New Orleans Saints over Philadelphia Eagles

NFC Championship

Green Bay Packers over New Orleans Saints

Super Bowl

New England Patriots over Green Bay Packers

In a rematch of Super Bowl XXXI (or 31 as I like to say), I have the Patriots coming out on top this time.

Some people are bold enough to pick actual scores, regular season, playoffs, Super Bowl or all three, but that’s just getting a little too crazy. There is no real sample population yet to help us determine just how potent each team’s offense or defense is going to be. Except that we know Jacksonville’s offense will be anemic.

Other Predictions

Here are some things I will be watching for during the season.

Johnny Manziel – not when he’ll start (week 5, BTW) but when he’ll get hurt (week 9 against the Bucs).
Rob Gronkowski – not when he’ll get hurt (week 5 against the Bengals) but which body part this time (ankle, BTW).
Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick – not which one has the better season (Kaepernick) but which one gets hurt running outside the pocket (Wilson – which is why Kaep has the better year).
Bill Belichick – just the over under on how many times he smiles this season during press conferences (cumulative). I have him at six. Six smiles.
Marshawn Lynch and Pete Carroll – when does Carroll finally realize he should just lead a trail of Skittles from the line of scrimmage to the end zone, thereby ensuring a Marshawn Lynch touchdown on every drive (for a blueprint of this plan see E.T.) and victory for Lynch fantasy owners everywhere.
Dallas Cowboys – Over/under on how many games it takes for a team to put up 50 against that stalwart D (4 games).
Andy Dalton – After signing the big money, does he live up to his salary a la Joe Flacco? What’s that – Joe Cool didn’t live up to his salary? Well then, sucks to be you Cincy.
Michael Sam – Will he or won’t he play in an actual game in 2014 – who cares? When do the nudes get leaked?

Finally, to all you fantasy football players out there, good luck from the bottom of my heart. My only advice: it’s not about the talent of the players, but how the coach’s game plans incorporate them. That being said pick up Tim Wright (TE, New England) now. I have no idea just how good he is, but you can bet Belichick will work him into as many plays as he can.

—Ryan Varney

Where to Watch Football in Cincinnati

UPDATE: The 2014-15 NFL season is about to kickoff. Hopefully your team pulled through the pre-season with no devastating injuries and it’s time to enjoy some actual real football. The only problem now is figuring out where to watch, especially if your team isn’t local. With that in mind, it’s time to revisit this blog post from last year. It’s still 100% relevant, meaning nobody went out of business and no other sports bars made the leap into my top five.

Where to watch football in Cincinnati
Watching football at Buffalo Wild Wings in Rookwood

One of the first things I asked about when I moved here was where to watch football in Cincinnati. I can’t believe that was four years ago. Even more troubling is that I’ve never written about my findings (and this is some serious research, mind you).

If you’re already thinking blah blah blah…just tell me where to go., then feel free to skip ahead to find the best place to watch football in Cincinnati.

First, I’d like to encourage you not to get fooled by this compilation from Metromix – like I did when I moved here. It’s fine if you’re only interested in watching one or two games, with the Bengals game being both of them. These are mostly fine establishments, but they DO NOT cater to the fan that wants to watch EVERY NFL game.

Second, if you’re wondering why you should listen to me, let me present some credentials. I moved from Chicago, my home for a decade and a somewhat transient city, that hosts a wide spectrum of NFL team fans besides da Bears. They know how to do a football Sunday Funday. I also go out just about every Sunday with my wife. She will validate any of these assessments. We root for different teams, neither local, so it’s important for us to see all the games. Plus she actually runs a money fantasy football league, so she’s double-y invested. Yeah, we’re serious about the NFL.

So what makes a great place to watch every NFL game?

Three things: TVs, TVs, TVs.

Actually, there’s more to it than just TVs. Food and atmosphere help round out the contributing factors. But the TV setup is clearly the most important thing here. So here are my picks for the places doing it right.

Top 5 Places to Watch NFL Football in Cincinnati

These are not listed in any particular order. The viewer’s proximity to the location plays a big role in determining where to go. Just know that all provide a great football-watching experience.

Buffalo Wild Wings (Rookwood/Hyde Park/Norwood)
http://www.buffalowildwings.com/

Buffalo Wild Wings Norwood - where to watch football in Cincinnati
2692 Madison Road
Cincinnati, OH 45208

If you can get a seat in the bar area, you’re pretty much set up for every game. They have four large TVs (two side by side above the bar) and five smaller TVs in a line. Plus you have good sight lines to catch some of the bigger TV displays in the dining area. They work with you to make sure you can see the games you’re interested in, but it is first come first serve. So get there early.

The atmosphere is pretty festive, especially when the Bengals are on. If you go semi-often, you’ll definitely be able to turn strangers into friends as there is a regular crowd.

Drink specials generally include 23 oz drafts of either Miller Lite, Bud Light or Coors Light for $3. And while they’re working on expanding the menu, it’s still your typical bar fare. Just get the wings.

Putter’s (Liberty Township)
http://putterstavern.com/

Putter's in West Chester - where to watch football in Cincinnati
6575 Cincinnati Dayton Rd
Liberty Twp, OH 45044

Putter’s has a more limited setup, but the south bar has a nice wall of TVs (two large screens surrounded by several smaller ones). There are also many TVs scattered across the entire restaurant, but depending on where you can get a seat, they may not be viewable.

The atmosphere is usually pretty noisy and you may find yourself involved in some trash talk, so be prepared.

During the early games, they have a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar that is excellent. Choose from a variety of mixes and garnish with several cheese choices, olives, pickles, celery, salami, hot peppers and so much more. If that’s not meal enough, enjoy a gameday steak hoagie and fries for five bucks – your choice of mushroom or Italian and mozzarella.

Holy Grail (The Banks/Downtown)
http://www.holygrailcincy.com/html/banks/banks.php

Holy Grail at the Banks - where to watch football in Cincinnati
161 Joe Nuxhall Way
Cincinnati, OH 45202

The Holy Grail has really expanded its TV setup. All screens are large and crystal clear. There’s really not a bad seat in the house and they do a good job of labeling each TV so you know what game will be where.

It’s always loud and rowdy and quite often you can find ESPN radio personality Mo Egger there watching the games. Y’know, if you’re into that kind of thing.

They have your typical bar food fare and they do a good job with it. I don’t think they have any gameday deals that will really draw you in.

Buffalo Wild Wings (Newport/Ft. Thomas)
http://www.buffalowildwings.com/

Buffalo Wild Wings in Newport, KY - where to watch football in Cincinnati
83 Carothers Road
Newport, KY 41071

Best TV setup in Cincinnati. While the whole place is relatively small, they somehow packed in over 45 TVs, all 48” screens or larger and all crystal clear HDTV displays. Plus they have home theater-sized screens above the bar on both sides. The bar is in the middle (so it’s oval) and there are four sections surrounding the bar. Each section has at least eight TVs – needless to say, you can find all the games here. They’ll also work with you to get any game you want on any TV you want. This is where you will find me most Sundays.

The atmosphere isn’t as good as the Rookwood location (above), but it’s new and needs time to develop. It’ll come around, especially when people realize just how AWESOME the TV setup is.

I’ve already commented on the food. It’s the same here as Rookwood.

Willie’s (Covington)
http://www.williescovington.com/

Willie's - where to watch football in Cincinnati
401 Crescent Ave
Covington, Kentucky 41011

Willie’s has the Great Wall of Television. If you can get a seat in the bar, you can sit and stare at four huge screens surrounded by several smaller ones. If you sit in the dining area, the view’s not so good.

Willie’s is a fun place and the food is very good for bar fare – and pretty reasonably priced. The only thing that keeps me from going back more often is the smoke. One of these days NKY will get with the program and ban smoking.

Honorable Mention:

Thirsty’s Oasis (Mason)
http://www.thirstysoasis.com/ordereze/default.aspx

Willie's - where to watch football in Cincinnati
5579 A Ohio 741
Mason, OH 45040

Thirsty’s has a boatload of TVs, well-positioned throughout the bar and you can see all the games from just about wherever you sit. They even have an outdoor patio/bar with enough TVs to show all the games. However, they’re not real adept at working the remote, so you may have to wait awhile before the game you want hits the TV you’re watching.

They have a great selection of beers, but no real gameday specials. The food is good and varied, but I’ll recommend the Flying Pig Wings. And the Bloody Mary.

Did I Miss Your Fave?

Drop me a comment if you think I missed one. I’m always willing to try other places in my quest to find football heaven.

—Ryan Varney

Over the Rhine Celebrates 25th Anniversary at Washington Park

Over the Rhine, the band, played a free show last night in Over-the-Rhine, the Cincinnati neighborhood, in honor of their 25th anniversary as a band. Despite the oppressive heat, Over the Rhine kept things low-key and cool while promoting songs from their latest album Meet Me at the Edge of the World. The show was held in Washington Park across from Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall.

Over the Rhine performs at Washington Park across from Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine
Washington Park and Music Hall serve as the backdrop to Over the Rhine

Besides getting to enjoy great, new music for free, I was impressed with what Cincinnati has done to make Washington Park a beautiful venue for outdoor shows. While there’s no official “seating” outside a few tables and chairs, you can bring lawn chairs or blankets or just take advantage of make-shift seating such as decorative walls or steps winding throughout the park. Excellent concessions were also available at this particular event, including food from Washington Platform and Taste of Belgium, a local Over-the-Rhine restaurant. The park concessions featured a nice variety of craft beers as well – though this attendee was sad to find Moerlein’s OTR Ale was not available. You give us Over the Rhine in Over-the-Rhine, but we can’t partake in some OTR? Would’ve been the perfect trifecta if you ask me.

Quibbles aside, the entire experience was excellent and people really seemed to enjoy themselves. Kids – and even some adults – stayed cool by wading through the beautiful Washington Park fountains. Linford Detweiler (half of the Over the Rhine songwriter duo) even offered up dry shirts for the fountain frolickers at what he called “the 1989 price of $15.”

Over the Rhine was slated to play from 6 PM to 8 PM, but they went on late and left early, so they only ended up playing for an hour or so. But they made that hour count. Over the Rhine’s subtle nuances, intricate harmonies and excellent musicianship shined bright and kept the audience rapt – while leaving us all wanting more. Many of the songs came from their new album and I was particularly struck by a couple of them.

“All Over Ohio” was presented as a love song – in more of a “one love” tradition than the more syrup-y love ballad kind of song. It made me appreciate how the band has stayed true to their Ohio roots. Plus it’s pretty darn catchy.

“Favorite Time of Light” is just a gorgeous tune that expresses, musically, the emotions we often feel when we experience the beauty of nature. In this case, a sunset spreading across fields of wheat as it gives warmth to everything it touches.

Because I’m not native to Cincinnati, I may be less likely to take a scene like this for granted. But given the history of Washington Park and Over-the-Rhine in general, perhaps it’s time for locals to revisit this renovated gem. Sure, Over the Rhine won’t play the venue every Sunday, but regardless of the band, Cincinnati has provided a great performance venue – scenic, sonic and safe – inside Washington Park.

View of downtown Cincinnati from Washington Park
Great view of downtown from Washington Park

If you’re interested in checking out Washington Park for yourself, let me recommend the Cincinnati Celtic Festival being held the weekend of September 5-7.

Let’s just hope they have Guinness.

—Ryan Varney

Cincinnati Reds at the 2014 All Star Break

Cincinnati Reds Logo courtesy of MLB.comHeading into the All Star break, the Reds were hot – winning seven of their last ten. Despite not having Joey Votto or Brandon Phillips (and even Skip Schumaker), the Reds managed to gain some ground on Milwaukee, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Jay Bruce hit three homeruns during that stretch and was primed for one of his team-carrying hot streaks.

Then the break came and the Reds broke.

Since regular season baseball resumed, the Reds have dropped four straight. And it’s been ugly, ugly, ugly. Dropped pop-ups, flubbed grounders, base running blunders and an inability to hit with RISP have put serious doubts into whether the Reds should be buyers or sellers in the second half.

Oh, and Jay Bruce is 0 – 11 with 5 Ks since the break.

But the fact remains, this team is only three and a half games out of first place. They’re still over .500 and the starting pitching remains above average – if not superb. The bullpen has improved, though both Broxton and Chapman have been touched up a little as of late. And for the amount of money being spent on those guys (see my previous rant on that for more details), well, they’d better improve. Only JJ Hoover can’t seem to get it together (see below for my thoughts on him).

They’re not getting Phillips or Votto back anytime soon, but if they can snap out of this little funk before leaving the land of brats and cheese wheels, I think the Reds should still be buyers. Cautious buyers, but buyers nonetheless.

Please don’t give up top-end prospects to land a mediocre rental player. Trade a guy you’re probably not going to re-sign that’s proven to be successful.

This mostly consists of pitching as the Reds can’t afford to lose any position player that can even hit at least .240. Now this is a very limiting strategy, I’ll admit, but this Reds team is probably not worth mortgaging the future.

Alfredo Simon, as much as I love what he’s done this year, might be a flash-in-the-pan as a starter. His arm might not be used to this many innings. Deal him while he has value. If you truly believe in Homer Bailey (money talks), and you trust Mike Leake and pray to God that Cingrani seasons well, you still have a solid staff. And in the playoffs, you’ll only need Cueto, Latos and Bailey.

However, if the Reds get swept out of Milwaukee or lose three or four games over the next seven, I’d start selling.

Should be easy, right? Who wouldn’t want the likes of Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey, Zack Cozart, Ramon Santiago, Brayan Pena, Donald Lutz or Skip Schumaker? Teams are probably salivating to take on the contracts of Brandon Phillips or Joey Votto. GASP – did I just say to unload Joey? Yes. Yes I did.

Of course, none of this will happen. The Reds will continue to get diminishing returns on BP and JV, and no contender is looking to part with prospects for the rest of the gang.

All we can do is hope these guys continue to play as a cohesive unit and that somehow, someway, someone picks up the slack.

If only the Todfather had a daughter. And it was the day of her wedding. Every day. And he had to grant all us Reds fans our wishes: more bombs (of the three- or four-run variety), the healing touch on Votto and Phillips and a post-season berth. Surely the Home Run Derby runner-up has the clout.

Final Thoughts on JJ Hoover

JJ Hoover Meme

Seriously, though, Hoover’s stats are horrific. He’s given up 8 homeruns in 34 appearances (41 IP) and 25 earned runs for a 5.49 ERA, all leading to a 1 – 7 record. He might have good stuff and may eventually become a quality reliever, but right now? He’s killing the Reds. Get on the phone, call Louisville and tell them they have a project on the way.

JJ Hoover statistics

—Ryan Varney

Routines

It’s funny how in memories the mind makes correlations between events that really aren’t related, at least in space and time. But I think our brain, in hindsight, understands life beyond the tangible. It ties together moments by fusing feelings and emotions, though the events they are attached to appear incongruous.

***

For years, as a child, I begged my parents for a dog though deep down I knew it was a lost cause. I’d broach the subject every so often on the off chance they’d cave. Alas, the answer was always no, the idea brushed aside like crumbs from a table.

Then one Christmas, I was told there was a final gift to open but I didn’t see any presents left under the tree. Up from the basement my dad bounded with a box in his arms. Oddly, the lid and box were wrapped separately – and that’s when it clicked. I pulled off the lid and out popped a puppy. Bouncing around with its tongue and tail wagging, it looked like a wind-up toy. I couldn’t help myself from exclaiming, “Is it real?!?”

BarneyJake

(L) Our first dog Barney; (R) Our second dog Jake

A few years later, my dad bought a truck. This was a man who’d owned a succession of Hondas because he believed in the value of miles per gallon. Sure, the truck was manual transmission and foreign-made (a Nissan), but it would never get the gas mileage an Accord or Civic would. So even with my limited financial acumen, I was quite surprised.

From the first moment I saw that truck, I knew I wanted to drive it more than anything in the world. Steel gray, over-sized tires; it was a thing of beauty in my sixteen year-old mind. It was also a vehicle much too expensive to let a newbie driver get behind its wheel.

Nevertheless, I still got jealous watching him pull out of the drive on his way to work wishing it was me instead. He worked at Toledo Hospital as a pharmacist (still does) and that commute was the primary purpose for using the truck. I can still picture the route now, twenty years later, timing the lights just right, the twists and turns as familiar to me as childhood.

I’m sure he’s quite sick of that route these days considering he’s been taking it for thirty years (has it been that long?!). But I will always feel envious of that drive because day in and day out, he made it with that truck and I so desperately wanted to take the reins.

But then came prom, senior year, and there was my dad handing over the keys. While I’m sure my date didn’t appreciate having to hike up her dress in an attempt to climb into the cab, I was in seventh heaven driving the twenty miles to pick her up and take us to the dance. Gradually, he let me drive it more often, until I eventually went off to college.

I majored in Communications because my dad wouldn’t help out with tuition if I followed in his footsteps as a pharmacist – the position wasn’t in high demand then as it is now. I got a job out of college working for a radio broadcaster in Chicago. Roads are narrow there, parking spots tight, so there was no need for a truck. While I spent a decade in the Windy City driving mid-sized sedans, it was always in the back of my mind to own a truck like Dad’s.

It was during my life in Chicago that my dad got rid of the old, gray Nissan. But he replaced it with a newer, maroon version – an automatic transmission (gasp!). Also during that time my surprise Shih Tzu puppy also went into the clearing at the end of the path. But his going, too, was supplanted with a newer version. I met them both on various visits home and it reminded me that while things change, they also stay the same.

Maroon Nissan FrontierGray Nissan Frontier

(L) Maroon Nissan Frontier passed down to me; (R) Dad’s third Frontier

Perhaps that thought is a key driver in how I approached my life. My parents were stable, reliable and consistent in word and deed. The Nissan Frontier changed color and year and the Shih Tzu went from Barney to Jake, but by and large things looked the same. I, on the other hand, was always moving in and out of relationships, looking for the next great thing and doing my best to fly my wax wings too close to the sun.

Eventually the fun ran its course in Chicago; it’s a young man’s metropolis. It was time to settle down and grow up a little. I moved with my wife to Cincinnati, a nice small town as my old boss Paul Harvey would’ve put it. We bought a house in the near suburbs (only two and a half miles from downtown across the river lest you think I gave up on fun completely) and started life as mostly responsible adults – like our folks – except with two cats instead of a dog.

One day, my dad says he’s interested in a truck down by where I live and asked if I’d come check it out with him. I obliged and we went to look at a practically new steel gray Nissan Frontier. It was even more beautiful than the one that stirred my teenage adrenaline. He bought it and, to my surprise, gave me his old maroon one. I finally had a truck! Only took me thirty-five years.

Around that time I also got a new job working for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. No – I didn’t go back to pharmacy school. I manage the hospital intranet on the research side of things, but still, I’m working at a hospital. Like my dad. And commuting streets in a truck. His old one.

There are mornings I walk outside, open the pickup cab, turn the ignition and make my way to the hospital and I think to myself after all these years I’m doing the exact same thing Dad does. Actually, this happens Every. Single. Morning. When I get to my hospital I sometimes don’t want to cut the engine and remove the key lest the connection between my dad and me is severed. It’s a ridiculous thought, I know, how can a stupid truck affect a relationship?

That’s where hindsight becomes 20/20 and the link between father and son, truck and dog start to become clear.

Looking back, I see that my dad has always been steady and consistent – replacing the old with newer versions only when he has to because he appreciates what he had or has in those things. And yet, he swore we’d never have a dog and that it wouldn’t be prudent to own a gas guzzling truck, the things he has maintained consistently for over twenty-five years now. But to get there, he broke from his ideals – and surprised a very malleable young boy in doing so.

It is the nature of all children to rebel against their parents to one degree or another. I am certainly no exception. I spent my life trying to do all things I felt my parents never did.

But getting up every morning and performing the same routine as my dad, I have a new perspective on things. I’m filled with pride to know that in some small way I’m following in his footsteps.

I’ve come to see that the responsibility and steadfast routine he’s demonstrated ever since I can remember – the thing I’ve probably rebelled against the most – is something I should run to, not from. Because being responsible and consist doesn’t mean being boring and predictable.

My dad broke his credo of no pets and got a dog. He set aside his cost-consciousness and got a truck. He found surprise and change inside his routine. Turns out, father may know best after all.

Eventually he’ll retire, his truck will die, I’ll get a new job and my truck will die. But I know the connection between father and son won’t be broken because some shared routines were. No – these days I’ve realized the connection comes from knowing I’m becoming the man he already is.

And, just maybe, for him, knowing this will be a surprise as pleasant as getting a puppy for Christmas.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.


From L to R: Ryan, Dad, Jenn at the Cell in Chicago

—Ryan Varney

2014 Reds First Quarter Review

2014 Reds Bullpen
2014 Reds Bullpen

Somebody needs to get fired…and it’s not Bryan Price. Whoever decided to drop $22.5 million dollars on the Reds bullpen this year come get your pink slip.

You. Failed.

Every time I see Price picking up the phone to the pen, I think “Who you gonna call? Winbusters?”

Reds upper management paid a combined $22.5 million to a group of “pitchers” to produce the following:

  • 5.77 ERA (worst in baseball)
  • .274 Batting Average Against
  • 4 Blown Saves
  • 3 Saves
  • 90 Innings Pitched (fewest in NL)

The only saving grace for the Reds bullpen is the fact they’ve worked the fewest innings in the National League so far this year. Can you imagine how much damage they could do in 120 IP? Well, give them time. You won’t have to imagine.

I’d also like to point out the number of blown saves versus saves. Surely, leaving the starters in could produce the same results? Reds starters are already pitching more innings than any other staff, so what’s a few more? BTW – Reds starters are only making $12 million more than the Reds bullpen collectively. Go ahead and put that in your back pocket for a bargaining chip next off season, guys.

Except you Homer Bailey. We’d like your $105 million back.

Better idea: just move him to the bullpen. He’ll fit right in.

Too bad the Reds can’t hit off their own bullpen. Currently, only Brandon Phillips is hitting higher than all National Leaguers batting against the Reds. He’s at a whopping .276. Everyone else is vying for the Mendoza Line. They could really use the lift of batting against their own pen.

$22.5 million. Could’ve added a bat to the lineup. Maybe pick up some extra runs to cover the ones the relievers are giving away.

Looks like I picked the wrong year to buy season tickets.

—Ryan Varney

Homer Serves Them Up At An Alarming Pace

Homer Bailey bobblehead

David Dewitt Bailey. His nickname, and the name you know him by is “Homer” – not a bad nickname for a baseball player. Except Homer Bailey is a pitcher and unfortunately for the Cincinnati Reds, a team that just shelled out $105 million for his services, Homer is serving them up at a rate of 1 every other inning in 2014.

It’s early, and that number will no doubt get better as the season progresses, but it’s alarming nonetheless. Besides the long balls, Bailey’s ERA this season at 8.16 is almost double his career average of 4.32. His WHIP is nearly a point higher, too.
Homer Bailey career statistics
Further, the Reds gave Bailey SEVEN years to reach the potential they felt he had in him – which they thought they saw realized in the pair of no-hitters he tossed in one calendar year. Hence the deal for a cool $105 mil over six years. That’s an average of $17.5 million per year. In other words, that’s ace money.

While I do think Homer Bailey has shown improvement over his first seven seasons, he’s no ace. People will quibble over the definition of what an ace is, but everyone agrees, an ace is the team’s best option when they need a win – someone you can bank on virtually every appearance. You can’t bank on Bailey. Like most of the Reds staff, he’s just too inconsistent and his career stats bear this out.

Too often the trend in baseball has shown that players receiving huge contracts have rather suspect performances the ensuing season. And with the Reds anemic offense, they really need Bailey to rise above the norm. Based on the early returns, he is not.

But it’s not all doom and gloom Reds fans. The team was smart enough to back load the contract with Bailey getting $9 million this year, $10 million in 2015, $18 million in 2016, $19 million in 2017, $21 million in 2018 and $23 million in 2019. Plus they set a buyout price at $5 million. So if Bailey doesn’t get back to his 2013 numbers, they can get out of the deal without taking too big a hit.

I certainly hope Bailey gets back into form in short order. He’s got dynamic stuff and he’s fun to watch. Plus, the Reds have enough guys in the bullpen willing to give up bombs – good thing Uncle Walt spent so much on such quality middle relievers (it’s enough to make you think he’s still on the Cardinals payroll – but that’s a post for another day).

I digress.

As does Homer.

—Ryan Varney