Monday, March 11, 2013

I Hate the Phrase "Punched Their Ticket"

This is the time of year when I become obsessed with basketball. The other 11 months I don't really care about the sport. At least not as much as football, hockey, baseball, soccer, curling, et cetera. But in March I can't get enough of the game. The mid-majors, the upsets, the buzzer beaters. The MVC, the OVC, the WCC, the ACC, the Atlantic 10, the Big Ten, the Big XII, the Big East. It's a relentless barrage of tension and thrills.

However, there is one thing about this time of year that threatens to give me a rage-induced conniption...

The phrase "punched their ticket," and all associated forms.

It's such a tired, worn-out, overused, out-of-date, unoriginal, uninteresting sports cliche. You hear it and read it constantly, in highlight reels and game recaps. "Florida Gulf Coast was the first team to punch their ticket," "Belmont punched their ticket for the third straight year," "Harvard punched their ticket because there's no tournament in the Ivy League," "Liberty punched their ticket despite 20 losses." Every conference tournament is another ticket punched. So many tickets. So many punches. So many times this same phrase is used.

The problem is, there's no other quick and colorful way to say "earned a berth in the NCAA tournament."

We must come up with another phrase. This level of repetition is unacceptable for a writer. Not to mention how out-of-date the phrase is. How often do you have a ticket that's punched these days? Here are some suggested replacements:

"Won a berth" is the most basic substitute. Although there's no flare to that. And in Sportswriting 101, future sports media are instructed to use as many formulaic, hackneyed expressions as possible, in an effort to make their writing appear interesting (see: "three-point land")

"Penetrated the bubble." I'm not sure this makes much sense, as most teams that win conference tourneys aren't bubble teams. But it sounds good. And kind of dirty.

"Date with 68." I like this, even though teams would technically have a date with 67 teams. It rhymes, it's catchy, and you can still use it when the Tournament expands to 128 teams.

"Cashed in." There's lots of money to be made by an NCAA appearance. And for USC's basketball program, this phrase is especially appropriate.

"Stamped their name on the bracket." Kind of long, but it's clear, active, and more up-to-date.

"Earned a slash." This can be used for teams that will be forced to go through one of the play-in games. Liberty, with their 20 losses, definitely earned a slash.

These are the humble suggestions of one sports fan who likes to write, and who hates hearing the same stupid phrases over and over again. I'm sure the truly great sportswriters out there, if there are any, can come up with something better. If only they tried to do so.

Why Were the Red Sox So Careful With Mike Napoli, Yet So Carefree With David Ortiz?

David Ortiz has been "shut down" for 5 to 7 days, due to inflammation in both heels. I don't know how you shut down a player who was barely active. Anyway, this is a significant setback for David Ortiz and his Achilles injury, and will likely push his return past Opening Day.

You probably remember that this injury started out as a minor issue. The Sox didn't even want to put him on the DL. That was about 9 months ago. It just went on and on. What was supposed to be a 500 word essay on Russian history has turned into the 1,200 pages of Tolstoy's War and Peace.

I'd peg the over/under on games Ortiz plays this season at 80.5. And I think I'm being generous.

What perturbs me is that the Red Sox were so very cautious about signing Mike Napoli due to injury concerns, eventually haggling with him for a discounted contract. With Ortiz there was no worry at all. Here was a 37 year old DH, with an injury that wasn't healing, and the Sox quickly gave him a 2 year, $26 million deal.

Would any other team have come close to paying Ortiz that much? Yet the Red Sox seemed eager to keep their sidelined star on the roster. I wonder why...

To be fair, the Sox did put a condition in Ortiz's contract. Ortiz gets $3 million more in 2014 if in 2013 he spends fewer than 20 days on the DL due to his Achilles injury. In other words, the Red Sox didn't protect themselves, but they will give a bonus to Ortiz for simply having a healthy Achilles.

I can't help but hypothesize that PR had something to do with the way the Red Sox handled Ortiz. There was little medical scrutiny, no delay, just a quick contract for the player who has become the grinning face of the franchise. The Sox signed the name, and didn't much care about the player. Wouldn't be the first time.

I have similar concerns over Jacoby Ellsbury still being on the roster. From a strictly baseball standpoint, it would make sense to shop Ellsbury around, especially if he's going to leave at the end of the season and you're not too optimistic about World Series contention in 2013. And it would make sense to let Ortiz go, or at least sign him to a deal similar to Napoli's. But then whose t-shirts would The Souvenir Store sell? Who would the pink hats ogle as he bends over in center-field? Who would the poor diehards cheer for with none on and 2 outs in the bottom of the 1st

I think the Red Sox are trying to tread water for the next 2-3 seasons. They want to field a semi-competitive team with a few marquee names. A team that will flirt with .500 and with the Wild Card spots. They might not sell Fenway out every night, but they want to avoid a young rebuilding team of no-names that will only draw 18,000 on a brisk Tuesday night in April.

Are they once again trying to be too clever in their effort to buy 3rd place? Or will it work? Will they win 85 games for a few seasons, then build a 95 win World Series winner?

Just like with Ortiz's injury, time will tell. Lots and lots of time.