Thursday, December 30, 2010

Blame It On The Rain

Looking out the window this morning, I see that today's rain is slowly turning our back yard rink into a pool (or pond--pond's better for you). The good news is that by Saturday--when the high temp is projected to be eleven--the water that's pooling today will return to its solid state. In fact, if we don't get any snow mixed in before the coming freeze, we could end up with a decent sheet of ice. The same can't be said for the prospects for this year's NHL Winter Classic in Pittsburgh (WSJ-sub req):

Unseasonably high temperatures and rain threaten to delay the Winter Classic, the National Hockey League's outdoor game on New Year's Day. This year it's between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals. NHL officials say they could hold the game Saturday night, rather than at 1 p.m., or Sunday, a delay that could leave some of the 30,000 out-of-state fans attending the game scrambling for accommodations.

"We're hoping. We're going to make every effort" to play the game Saturday, said Brian Jennings, the NHL's executive vice president of marketing and communications. Safety comes first, though, he said.

Uneven ice on the temporary hockey rink erected at Heinz Field can be dangerous for the players. Mr. Jennings doesn't think a delay would hurt marketing efforts. So far, the league has sold 38,000 team jerseys commemorating the game, more than in past years.

"Warm weather is OK, but no rain, please," said John Strausbaugh, 48 years old, of Mount Wolf, Pa., about 100 miles north of Washington. Mr. Strausbaugh got two tickets from his wife as a Christmas gift and plans to take his 14-year-old son, Colton.

Mr. Strausbaugh, who works for a steel distributor, said that his wife paid about $860 for the tickets from, and that he has been trying to find a hotel outside the city in case they have to stay overnight. "The ones close to the stadium are so expensive," he said.

If the game is held on Sunday, it would be played at noon, and would compete for fans' attention with National Football League games. Another option would be to play the Classic indoors later in the season.

The Classic can't be played indoors. The only thing that makes it "classic" is the setting. If the Caps and Pens play later in the season indoors, it's just another game.

While I realize that it's anecdotal, I'm stunned that people are willing to shell out close to nine hundred clams for a pair of tickets to an outdoor hockey game. I love hockey as much as the next guy and it would be an unforgettable experience to attend a Classic. But you're likely not going to get a good view of the action and at the end of the day, it's still just a regular season game. This particular example of conspicuous consumption raises question about people's priorities and also is more evidence that while the economy is far from healthy, we ain't exactly back in the Dust Bowl days again.

The Nihilist Grumbles: I will be thrilled to see the failure of the so called "Winter Classic" for several reasons. First of all, New Years Day is about college football. I don't blame the NHL for trying to steal a slice of the pie since the BCS has significantly harmed the spectacle that once was New Year's Day, but I don't have time to watch a near-meaningless regular season hockey game when Alabama is playing Michigan State and Florida faces Penn State in what may be Joe Paterno's final game.

Second, outdoor hockey is fun when you are a kid. Yet, when playing hockey outdoors, we dreamed of the day when we would be big enough to play indoor hockey on a quality sheet of ice. The rink is certain to be of lesser quality than one used for all of the other games each team plays for the rest of the season, or even the pre-season. Would we have a nostalgia game where curved sticks are not allowed? Of course not. Technology shouldn't be discarded for the purpose of novelty.

Finally, it seems like the cities being chosen to host these games are too far south. These games should be played in Montreal or Edmonton, certainly no city in the United States can guarantee proper weather for a proper game at 1 pm on New Year's Day.

THE ELDER THROWS AN ELBOW: I actually like the idea of the Winter Classic and enjoying watching it far more than college football games that are completely meaningless except for the alumni of the schools playing. Believe it or not, the regular season game between the Caps and Pens actually has MORE meaning than any New Year's Day bowl game. It could be a factor in playoff position at the end of the season. Sorry, I should remember that "playoffs" is a dirty word for the BCS. When college football joins the real world when it comes to determining a national champion, then maybe New Year's Day games can matter again. Until then, I say game on for the Winter Classic, although you are correct to note that they should try to pick better venues weather wise. By the way, your technology argument would dictate that all baseball and football games be played indoors as that would always ensure the best field conditions. Outdoor baseball is so 19th century and nothing more than a "novelty" in our brave new world of enclosed stadiums.