Sunday, August 30, 2009

"25 Things" about me

Yes, I know, I missed the memo for doing this when it was "hip," or whatever you kids are calling it these days, but I had a reason for waiting: now ALL the attention is on me! Muahahaha. Oh, I kid. Take it easy. This column poses a huge test to me, seeing as how I tell everyone everything about me. So, I'm going to try to make "25 things" full of things that I haven't told everyone. I apologize if I've already told most of these to a few select people.

1. At my core, I am a truly happy person. I'm thankful for everything I have.

2. All biases aside, I think "The Best Day" by Taylor Swift is one of the most beautiful, uplifting songs I've ever heard, and it always puts me in a purely magnificent mood.

3. You know those buzzers that places like Olive Garden give you to let you know when your table is ready? Well, every time I have one in my hands, I try to figure out how to make it go off. "Now, if I put pressure on the back right side and the front 'button' at the same time, do you think we'll get seated?"

4. If I think badly of something I've written that you may find great, it's not because I'm fishing for compliments. I have extremely high standards for myself.

5. Just because I cover sports doesn't mean I don't want to (or can't) play them. In fact, I miss competition an unhealthy amount. I've actually been perfecting my pitching windup and a curveball in my backyard to feel like an athlete again.

6. I am "crushed" very easily (see: my history in high school), but don't mistake that for legitimate liking. To get to that level takes much more.

7. On that note, I think having ridiculous crushes is healthy (if not only for me) and I think you should try it sometime.

8. I love sitting on my roof, looking at the stars, and listening to "Split Screen Sadness," especially when my favorite lyric comes up.

9. Stone Harbor '08 and Cle'cago '09 are the best trips of my life, and I'll be pleasantly surprised if anything comes near.

10. If you haven't watched or read the "Secret" yet, you should. It changed my life, it could do the same to you.

11. If I could come back as one person, I'd probably choose Jon Bon Jovi, circa 1980. The guy's got everything.

12. I hate that "Sportscenter" is becoming the CNN of sports. Instead of simply sports and great anchors (Dan Patrick, Charlie Steiner), ESPN has become just another "Breaking News Network." It's depressing.

13. I have a theory about the "One" theory, and it goes something like this: There is no "One," there are six. Go ahead, hold up six fingers. Put two down right away, you won't ever meet these two people (in reality, that number could be anywhere from 2 - 2,000, but I don't have endless fingers). Of the remaining four, you will date three people at the wrong age, under the wrong circumstance, and in the wrong setting. You could see yourself ending up with that person, but if only you had met, say, 5 years later. And that one finger left? Well, that's just perfect.

14. I'm a sucker for a great pair of eyes and a voluptuous smile. Perverts.

15. The Eagles are my favorite band, as they just surpassed the Beatles. Now that MJ is gone, Bruce is the greatest living entertainer/singer/songwriter. Hopefully I'll be seeing him live in a few months.

16. Looking back on it, playing high school golf was a mistake. If I had to do it again, I would stick with basketball.

17. I partially credit country music for making me the person I am today. I was once wound extremely tight, but now, I'm just glad "I'm Alive."

18. My family and friends get the rest of the credit.

19. No offense to Lou, but I may be the luckiest man alive. Or I at least have amazingly impeccable timing. I'm even in the wrong place at the right time sometimes. Ask my family. Bad things just don't happen around me.

20. If you ever want to know, for some reason, how to find the Audubon to the "Friend Zone," just ask me. They call that the "Grant Burkhardt Expressway."

21. "Bigger Than My Body" is about me.

22. I was once seriously asked if my name was short for something, like "Grantholomew."

23. If you turned an X-ray of my spine on its' side, you would see a question mark.

24. I'm very rarely visibly upset. I take the saying, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" and turn it on its' head. I take the good little things and let them get me happily through the day. For example, as I was pulling into a parking lot today, I circled around looking for a space, and, voila, someone was leaving one right as I pulled into that row. Kept me smilin' for a while.

25. I'm surrounded by amazing women. From my wonderful mother to my aunts to my grandma to a brunette to a certain redhead, they make me a better person everyday.

And isn't that all you can ask of someone? Just to try to be a better human?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sports at their finest: High school football kicks off

As schools open for class, stadiums open for Friday night release. It's as pure as it gets: it's high school football.
The experience of seeing a high school football game comes with very little hoopla - no rock bands (only student marching bands), few poor sports (only enthused student sections with creative chants), no pre-game B4 bomber entrances (only birds against a blue sky) - and the game is full of raw emotion and love of football.
I have a special connection with this genre of sport; I got my start in the industry reporting high school football two years ago today. I learned to love everything about the environment at high school games: the pep rallies, the food, homecoming week, alma maters, the stadiums, and the games.
I've heard some talk recently about how boring high school football can be when compared to the college and professional games, but I'm not sure I agree. See, the same people that think that feel they are too big for the "little" game, and feel burdened when they have to go cover high school kids.
That's garbage.
I think people who say that have lost touch with what is great about the high school game, if not sports in general. With high school football, you have to take the little things and appreciate them for what they are.
I love that townspeople show up to watch practice on a day-to-day basis. I love that seemingly the entire town shows up for a game under the lights, and that the game is a culmination of an entire week of waiting to watch the team play. The aura around high school football is something that cannot be matched. I will always love standing on the sidelines under the lights and being able to feel the electricity of a new seasons' hopes on the first week of the season or the state title hopes of week nine. And I truly hope I never let myself get too "big" to fully appreciate everything high school football has to offer, and everything high school football has done for Grant Burkhardt, the reporter.
If I ever let myself get there, you have permission to take away my press pass.
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shower Thoughts - NBA Salvation

"Because whose mind doesn't work better in the shower?"

My summer has been full of great stories, wonderful walk-off moments, and loads of Pirates losses, but I couldn't help but remember one bay-side encounter that reinforced what I love about sports: for the most part, they are pure and full of emotion.
Even the NBA.
Now, even if you've only spent a few hours in my presence, I've probably ranted about how much I dislike the Association (yes, I talk about it that much). I've never seen the excitement in professional basketball and its' loose traveling rules, lackluster defense, and scores combining to equal 500. It has honestly never interested me. Ever. Until this past June, when a fateful cab ride brought ESPN's favorite sport and me together for the first time.
My family and I took a vacation to San Francisco a few months ago (the first time I've been anywhere near California), and I loved every minute of it. From the actual city to nearby Pebble Beach and Napa Valley, the trip was a total success. On our first day in the city, we got in a taxi with a driver named Shane. Shane was quite the character - diehard San Francisco Giants fan (claims to have denied Manny Ramirez and Orlando Hudson access to his cab because they were members of the Dodgers), extremely talkative, and outrageously hysterical. He explained to us how he makes a living outside of driving people around; he is a sports bookie for people around the city. And he sure does talk like (or maybe simply act like) he knows what he's doing.
He continues to explain his philosophy on that nights' huge NBA Finals game 5: the Lakers, up three games to one, were, according to Shane, going to intentionally lose the clinching game of the series in order to prolong the series.
Shane believed there was too much money to be made by having a game six for L.A. to win the title that night. He was convinced that Kobe Bryant was going to throw a game in the Finals. Can you process that? I could not, and still cannot. I was curious, so I asked, "How can you be so sure?"
Shane replied quickly, "It happens in every sport. Take baseball for example, all managers bet on their teams. You can always tell if they've bet on their team to lose or win depending on which reliever they put in the game. He puts his recent call-up right hander in to face Pujols with a lead? He's bet on his team to lose. Torre puts in Mo' in the 8th to pitch six outs for the save? He's bet on the Yanks to win. Simple as that."
That couldn't possibly be the way sports worked. I just shrugged it off and went about my business for the rest of the day. But it lingered. I was still horrified that sports may be inherently corrupt. "Nah, impossible."
"But what if he's right?"
There was only one way to find out, I had to (shudder) watch the Lakers/Magic game that night. Caring about an NBA game was a small price to pay for redeeming my hope in humanity.
Unfortunately, we were out being tourists for the day, so I had no way of knowing what the score was. We didn't get back to our hotel until later that night, and those questions had been bugging me so much all day that I raced into the lobby and asked the first person at the bar what happened in the Lakers game.
He replied, "Lakers won! 99-86! Kobe did it!"
Sporting integrity challenged, sporting integrity restored.
Thank you, Kobe.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Golfers' Dilemma (One of Many)

Unfortunately, golf hooked me a long time ago. I can't quite escape its grasp and I have no choice but to play the stupid game until I die. I would argue that you haven't truly loved golf until you have totally despised it, but that's a column for another time.
If you've played for more than a few weeks, you probably became accustomed to seeing the ball go in a certain direction on every shot. Your ball flight is the definition of who you are on the golf course. You slice it? You're either just starting or haven't quite figured out that your legs and arms start the downswing together, not one before the other. You hook it? You used to slice it, but now your wrists want to go the other way. You hit it straight? Yeah, right.
Either way, as much as you try, you just can't seem to shake your pesky ball flight. You wish you had the ability to turn the sphere the other direction, but you can't. So you keep trying to aim farther left/right to compensate. What happens? Stupid thing goes farther in the direction you desperately want it not to. I used to have a horribly wonderful five yard fade, and now I haven't seen the ball go right in an eternity.
After a while though, you finally get it to go the other way.
Seeing the ball go the opposite direction is such a breath of fresh air, you never want it to stop...until you want it to stop.
You already miss your old ball flight. Your horrible slice was actually a nice gentle fade, but now it's a violent duck hook, and it's as annoying as an ear pimple. You feel as though you've lost a companion - one you could rely on; you knew exactly where he was going and could control him (kind of). But now, you feel helpless as a more unpredictable foe has reared his ugly dimple.
You miss your ball flight like an old girlfriend. You just wish your (golf) life was back to the way it used to be. But another drive goes wayward and you feel like quitting.
You'd give anything to have her (it) back.
So you ask advice from a friend, or maybe you seek a professional. Either way, you need help, and quickly. He sits you down on the couch (driving range), and you begin to talk. He pries into your deepest (golf) memories, and then you begin the long road to recovery (this analogy has gone on long enough).
In your first few hours on the range, the ball is going farther in that horrid direction. The left/right turn seems more vicious than ever, and you call it a day without having seen a single shot go the way you remember.
A few days later, you take to the course. Skip the practice range, you've had bad luck there recently. Your hook/slice is worse than ever, you can't even see your own fairway half the time, and you want to Michelle Wie it and walk off. But as much as you want to, you can't. Golf has tremendous pull. You're standing on the next tee, again over-analyzing the shot, thinking of every piece of advice anyone has ever told you...all at the same time. You finally decide, "to hell with it, I'm just going to clear my head and swing, I don't care where it goes."
(Meanwhile, your buddies mutter, "yeah, right, here we go again. Should we tell the group on the green on 12 to watch out now or just wait until the ball is airborne?")
But seriously, you've had it, and you're just going to swing. So you take a few deep breaths, step up to it, and swing.
When you look up you see a beautiful fade against a wonderfully blue sky, the clouds play the perfect backdrop to the gorgeous shot, and the birds chirp their applause. It's perfect.
Hello, old friend.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

And Another Thing...

I don't usually do this, but I feel absolutely compelled to write a short, unplanned column about what I just saw in the Pirates/Nationals game at PNC Park.
Andrew McCutchen just hit his second homer of the game, a two-run shot to the short porch in left field, which gave the Bucs a 7-2 lead. That's not the important play that I want to talk about (even though it is great to see Cutch's power starting to come through); what I want to talk about is much more exciting, much more surprising, and much more intangible.
Immediately after Cutch's homer, new Pirates left-fielder Lastings Milledge came up to the plate, saw two pitches, and then popped a ball up to the second baseman. No harm done, right? Inning over, but the Pirates scored 4 and took a big le -- (still watching) -- "is Milledge running out a pop fly???? OH MY GOODNESS HE IS, HE'S HUSTLING AND IS HALFWAY TO SECOND! AMAZING!!!"
Yes, old-fashioned baseball fans, a player in a game in 2009 just ran so hard that he ended up rounding second base as the defensive player caught the ball for the final out.
More importantly, for a guy like Lastings Milledge, maligned as a lazy, unmotivated underachiever, to be the player running hard on that play is even more amazing than the play itself. If Milledge keeps that chip-on-his-shoulder attitude alive, along with his bat (4 RBI in now-one-and-a-half games), we may have banked something special in the outfield at PNC.
Meanwhile, more new Pirates have made great debuts for their respective minor league clubs: 1B Jeff Clement (acquired in the Jack Wilson trade with Seattle) had 2 HR's in his first game for AAA-Indianapolis last night, and Tim Alderson (from SF for Freddy Sanchez) has given up one run in five innings while striking out four for AA-Altoona tonight (game still in progress).
Look, I know I'm jumping the gun on most (if not all) these new players, but as much as I hate to ask the question, I have to: could hope for the Pirates future come this quick?