The magical number of 12

I walked into Lifetime Fitness on Monday evening and handed my card to the dude behind the counter with a bit of a swagger.

Yes I said swagger. And it’s kind of a joke.

So maybe there wasn’t swagger, but there was a small sense of pride and accomplishment. Because once the bar code was scanned, it meant I was a winner. A big $20 frequent fitness winner as it was my 12th health club visit of the month.

I know getting to the gym 12 times in a month shouldn’t be cause for celebration. It’s only three times a week. But it is.

I don’t always have the right amount of motivation. I find excuses to not go. There are times when I’d rather just crash on the couch and watch TV.

Things only get tougher from here, 12 visits in the shortest  month of the year feels difficult to pull off. But I’m going to try to do it. I’m going to try to rock it. I, after all, have my swagger back.


Trying to embrace winter

I do realize that I live in Minneapolis. I know that we experience that thing called winter. I knew what I was getting myself into when I moved back to Minnesota from North Carolina in 2000.

I shouldn’t complain about it. I know that. But I don’t love winter. I can live with the snow, but I loathe the cold. The past month has been filled with especially brutal weekends.

When I returned from Christmas in Phoenix, I vowed to myself that I was going to again break out my cross-country skis that I bought a few years ago. When I moved from being a sports reporter to being a metro reporter, my winter workload was decreased. I worked five days a week instead of six or seven and had almost every weekend off.

Early that winter, I bought a pair of Atomic cross-country skis. I skied a pretty good amount as a kid growing up in the Willmar metroplex. Starting as an elementary school kid, our family would go up and ski at Sibley State Park on a very regular basis. I don’t think we went every weekend, but it seemed like we would go at least a couple of times a month.

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Required reading: Three very good ones

On this cold Friday, I provide three very good reads for

1. Jeff Pearlman is a sportswriter/author. He and I know lots of people in common. We’re about the same age. I read his blog on a fairly regular basis. But I don’t know him.

He wrote about tracking down a couple of his online haters. The piece about online civility — or the lack of such a concept — kind of hit home for me. I love the internet. I can’t lie about that. But the abilility for people to just crush somebody over an anonymous email or on a message board or on Twitter of Facebook really frustrates/frustrated me. There’s just so much mean-spirited venom out there.

I had good newspaper jobs and got tons of hate email. I can only imagine the amount of nasty filth that Pearlman gets. It can’t be good. It was one of the worst parts of my job. But it was always kind of funny how if you emailed somebody back, they often were shocked that you sent something back. They would often apologize and be really nice.

2. Last November, I worked on a story with my job about injured University of Denver hockey player Jesse Martin. Long story short: He broke a vertebra in his neck during a game, came to our hospital, had a great surgery and is making a great recovery. The Denver Post has video of him speaking recently and an update on his recovery. It’s both amazing and inspiring. I realize I’m kind of close to this story having worked with his dad and having seen Jesse with the halo on his head, but it’s worth a read.

3. Tom Scheck from Minnesota Public Radio puts together a piece on Michelle Bachmann\’s trail of misstatements. It is worth a read regardless of your political affiliation. But if you lean left, you’ll probably like it a little more.

My new favorite bad team

I am something of a contrarian when it comes to sports teams. I don’t like the overdog or the heavily exposed. I hate that national networks seem to show one of about six or seven teams in every broadcast.

I don’t get too excited about watching the Yankees, the Red Sox or the Phillies. A NBA game with the Celtics or Heat or Spurs has me at least considering an immediate channel change.

If it wasn’t clear previously, I have the NBA League Pass for the third consecutive year. I’ve grown into a NBA fan/junkie, something that wasn’t the case or an option when I was covering college hoops. I have a far greater appreciation for the NBA than I ever have. The players are huge and can do crazy athletic things. Everybody can make open shots. And there no bad teams. I’ll take a bad NBA game over a college game between a good team and some hyphenated or directional school.

Maybe it was because I covered the Big Ten for so long — you know, a league where too many games are 62-58 — but I love offense. I want to see points scored. I like watching teams get up and down the floor. I also tend to watch more NBA games from the Central, Mountain or Pacific time zones, it’s just the way it has worked out. It has started to change a little bit as I enjoy watching the Knicks, but that is probably another post for another day.

So who do I watch? I started watching more Phoenix than anybody else, but the Suns aren’t what they were before D’Antoni left. I like watching Oklahoma City, though I enjoyed watching the Thunder last year a little bit more as they weren’t quite as popular. I’ve been known to watch Portland, but the Blazers play awfully slow.

So where does that leave me? For much of the past two years, I have been a sucker for the Golden State Warriors. Let’s be honest, the Warriors aren’t very good. They don’t really defend and didn’t have much in the middle before signing David Lee. But I love watching Monte Ellis play. He is so fast, he’s fearless, he plays so hard. And he’s good. Steph Curry is very fun to watch because he’s such an interesting complement to Ellis. While Ellis plays pedal-to-the-metal, Curry is much more calculated. He changes speeds, he understands how to get open, he can get his shot off in a hurry.

And I love the Warriors new uniforms. I’m convinced they are among the very best in the NBA.

But of late, I have a new favorite team to watch. I am now part of Clipper Nation, and this move happened long before the Clipps toyed with the Wolves on Wednesday night.

I didn’t really know what to think of Blake Griffin heading into this season. He was obviously good, but I wasn’t sure where he would play. Could he play center if he had to? Was he big enough? I had some of the same questions about him that I had with Kevin Love.

I thought he would be solid, but not like this. Dude has been just incredible. He plays super hard, he’s athletic, he overpowers defenders. He has become one of the NBA’s must-watch players. And I’ve been watching. I love how he doesn’t back down and mixed it up a little bit with the Lakers earlier this week.

He’s also really helped the Clippers get better. With the amount of attention he draws inside, he’s given Eric Gordon more room to operate on the perimeter. He’s also helped to somehow keep Baron Davis interested in this season. I realize they are the Clippers and things always go south with the Clippers, but they’ve been winning games like crazy. Wednesday’s win was the 11th in 15 game games for the Clipps.

I’m kind of worried that I’m too late to this party. And instead of being ahead of trend, I’ve become a bandwagon jumper. I’m going to try not to think about that for now and just watch the craziness.

The guys on the Wolves broadcast tonight said that Griffin has become the most-searched athlete on YouTube. Don’t know the parameters of that (there has to be some), but I’ll leave you with some Blake Griffin internet goodness.



Do I miss being a sportswriter?

When I see someone I’ve known for a while, but haven’t seen lately, it usually doesn’t take long to get a version of one of these questions:

Do I miss working at the Star Tribune? Do I miss being a sportswriter? Do I miss covering the Gophers?

The answer to the first of those three questions is that I truly miss some of the people at the Star Tribune, but there are very few days when I wish I was still there. I’m very happy with my move out of journalism and I have a new job in which I’m both challenged and feel like I make strong contributions on a regular basis.

The answer to the last two questions could not be clearer: Absolutely not.

The past two weeks have shown crystal clear examples of why I don’t miss covering the Gophers. I simply don’t have the patience to deal with some of the nonsense that happens in the sports world and how the job is pretty much all consuming.

Last week, Gophers guard Devoe Joseph decided to leave the team midseason and transfer. He’s a fine player and his departure certainly hurts Minnesota as the Gophers weren’t exactly overflowing with quality depth in the backcourt.

Players transfer and covering it is part of the job, but this was more challenging than a simple transfer. Joseph had been suspended for several games to start the season. It wasn’t exactly a state secret why for anyone who is at all close to the team, but it would be close to impossible to get someone on the record to say why.

So then you have to figure out what really happened. Was the kid going to be suspended again? Did he get a raw deal from the coach? And I’m sure the beat writers were getting people on both side tossing mud. I would gather the kid was considered by the staff to be a bad kid and a quitter. And I’m sure the parents/AAU coach/posse were putting some of the blame on the staff. Try figuring out the math in that equation. The answer is that it is probably a little bit of both and if you do your job right, both sides probably don’t like what you write.

Last night and today, however, blew me away.

I was sitting at home watching the BCS National Championship game. I might have been enjoying a beverage. Then I heard the news that Trevor Mbakwe was in jail after violating a restraining order. To say I was thrilled to not have to chase that story was such an understatement.

So you have a guy that missed all of last season as felony charges against him were being sorted out AND he has a restraining order against him. My guy Gary Parrish from tweeted today that the kid can’t be THAT unlucky, can he?

It is a totally ridiculous story. If you have a restraining order against you, what makes you think it is even an OK idea to contact that person via Facebook? Really? And what exactly did the guy do to get that restraining order placed against him? I don’t really know Trevor. I talked to him a couple of times when he was still in high school, but I can proudly say that there are no players left on the Gophers who I covered in college.

Because I can’t help myself, I did go on both last night and a few times today. I know the people who run the site, I know a few posters in real life and I always find it interesting to see what the pulse is.

This story, like the Joseph story, is going to be a delicate balance. There’s going to be people near Trevor who are likely to say that he was just trying to be nice and didn’t mean anything about it. But from past experience, I would be also stunned that if the beat writers didn’t hear from people via email who were killing Trevor and the U because of the alleged actions against women part of the equation. And also like the Joseph case, both sides are probably somewhat right.

The staff knows that winning games would be more difficult to do without Mbakwe so they are fighting for him. A lot of fans feel the same way. And the people who say that a guy was charged with a felony for allegedly breaking a woman’s jaw and who has a restraining order against him might not be the model student-athlete certainly have a point as well.

I’m just glad I’m not playing traffic cop on this story. Because it probably isn’t going to go away. Will he be charged? Does this impact his settlement in Florida? What will the media-phobic head coach say about this? I’m glad this isn’t under my watch.

Maybe I’m crazy, but it certainly seems that college sports teams harbor more knuckleheads than ever. And it isn’t just a Gophers thing. Also this week, an unnamed University of Washington basketball player may be under investigation for a sexual assault. The same thing happened at Michigan State earlier this fall. And don’t even get me started on college football.

While I do cover a few games a month as a freelancer (often in more of a support role than a full responsibility role), I guess I am still kind of a sportswriter. But it is the perfect amount. I do it enough that it isn’t foreign, but also enough to realize that my new life is better for me in so many ways.

I guess the fourth question that I get asked fairly regularly is whether I still follow college basketball? The answer there is also no.

I will watch the Gophers if I’m around. It is my alma mater, I have seen games in Williams Arena dating back almost 30 years, I do still have a little bit of interest there. But I certainly won’t fit my schedule around their games. I’ve watched at least part  of all of the Big Ten games (though the Indiana game was while I was on the treadmill at the gym with no sound). I will probably watch at least some of Thursday’s game against Purdue.

But I watch very little beyond that. I won’t watch random national games, I don’t know which mid-majors are truly good. I know close to nothing about recruiting. That is a huge departure for a guy who could name pretty much every scholarship player in the Big Ten and could break down lots and lots of teams.

I covered the Gophers for seven seasons and missed two regular season games during that span. One was when I was at the Insight Bowl (Mason’s last game). The other was a game at one of the Indiana schools late in the 2007 season. That game was covered by our women’s basketball reporter, who was in Indy for the Big Ten Tournament at that point. I did miss a couple of NIT games because neither I nor the bosses were too excited about them.

Throw in two exhibition games a year and that’s 223 Gophers games. In 99-00, I covered 38 North Carolina games (36 real, 2 exhib). And the two years before that, I covered 68 of 69 University of Cincinnati games (missed one while covering the inaugural Humanitarian Bowl). That’s a total of 329 games in 10 years as a beat writer, a total that doesn’t include random games I saw while working on other stories for the Strib or or NCAA tournament games as a neutral writer (probably 29 Final Four games alone, plus the early rounds).

That, frankly, is enough. I’m glad I’m done.

These days, I’m way, way, way more likely to watch an NBA game than a college game. There’s a blog post that needs to be written about this topic, but the short version is that I just think the basketball is so much better. After watching enough lopsided college games in which a big conference school plays a hyphenated or a directional team, that’s a nice change. I also grew so weary of games that ended 58-54 that I wanted to poke my eyes out.

To say that I’m happy with the turn my career has made is an understatement. I’m learning a lot, I have a clearer career path, I like the change. It is all good.

And other people can deal with the knuckleheads. And I didn’t even write about Royce White.

I’m a bit too excited for this video game

I arrived at the office on Tuesday morning, logged into Twitter and one of the first things I saw was golf writer Jason Sobel tweeting how Augusta National Golf Club was going to be in the new Tiger Woods 12 video game.

I was stunned. And amazed. And thrilled.

It was a few hours later, when my friend Ryan tweeted:

“How many nights will @jeffshelman be camping out at Best Buy to get this copy of Tiger Woods 2012 w/Augusta National?”

I’m not sure that I’m going to camp out (though I won’t completely rule it out), but I will be getting the game.

I realize that I’m closing in on 40. But I am awfully excited about this development. Probably too excited.

I am not a huge gamer. I had a ColecoVision when I was a kid (to you youngsters, Google it and then laugh at the primitive video game culture of the 80s), but after that I didn’t play for a long time.

It was only about four or five years ago when I took some fantasy football winnings (thanks to all those NFL writers who let a non-expert win) and bought an Xbox 360.

I pretty much play sports games. Tiger Woods 07 or 08 was the first game I bought and I’ve purchased every version since then. I’ve several NBA games (both EA and 2K), I had one NHL game, a couple of MLB games, two NCAA Football games and the last two FIFA games. I’m not big on shoot-em-up games, but I do love playing a game or two and seeing what I can do.

That said, the Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise was getting a little boring. There were small tweaks each year and some new courses, but the year-to-year changes were pretty small. Putting has improved greatly since the first game I purchased and the distances that the ball goes isn’t nearly as unrealistic as before (back when every par 4 became driver-wedge and every par 5 was reachable in two). Even though I like the Ryder Cup format on the newest game, I haven’t played it all that much.

But the Augusta feature is very exciting. I thought Hazeltine National Golf Club being added to the game for TW10 was very cool as I worked there in college for a while and have probably played the course 75 times. It was so cool that I wrote a freelance piece for the Star Tribune about Hazeltine being in the game. But this is a whole different level.

In April 2009, I attended a Masters practice round and it is one of the coolest things I’ve done. I walked every hole and wanted to get a great sense of the elevation change, the crazy movement in the greens, how little rough there is out there and the like.

I get that people might not like that ANGC is totally a good-old-boys kind of place or don’t like the stuffiness of the Masters, but the golf course is super cool.

Just like when Hazeltine joined the game, when Target Field was available on MLB2K10 and TCF Bank Stadium being part of NCAA Football 11, there is no question that I will buy Tiger Woods 12 on March 29, the day it is released. The only real question is whether I get it on a midnight store opening at GameStop, whether I buy it at lunch or whether I get it on my way home from work.

Assuming that we don’t get to play real golf here in the Twin Cities again in March (doubtful considering the amount of snowcover we have now), this game will certainly help get me through the end of winter.

If you can’t get enough, here is Bubba Watson playing a demo of the game. And here is Sobel talking about the game and touching on why ANGC is finally participating.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. There was much Twitter buzz on the topic yesterday and there was a pretty good-sized thread on Golf Club Atlas about the game.

I guess this means that I need to dust off my copy of TW11 and get practicing. March 29, after all, isn’t that far off.

UPDATE: Golfweek checks in with an interesting story featuring a little more background on how the game was made, etc.  Worth a click.