Definition please

Peter Capaldi as The 12th Doctor. (doctorwhotv.co.uk)

Peter Capaldi as The 12th Doctor. (doctorwhotv.co.uk)

So we’re now six episodes — almost halfway — into the eighth series of the Doctor Who reboot, the first with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor.

When Matt Smith replaced David Tennant we were very concerned that he wouldn’t be up to the task of filling the shoes of maybe the most popular Doctor in the entire five-decade history of the series. But by the time he announced his departure he had carved his own niche and become in some ways a modern Tom Baker to Tennant’s Jon Pertwee, the fun-loving kick-ass goof to a doctor who had enjoyed moments of great humor but had proven himself a serious badass who could turn cold and deadly at a moment’s notice when the situation called for it.

We had strong hopes that Capaldi would be a worthy successor. He of course had history with the show after his appearance as a Roman father in “The Fires of Pompeii” appearing alongside Tennant, and is a lifelong fan of the show.

My wife and I have been enjoying the series so far despite our general dislike of Jenna Coleman as the companion Clara. But there is something that we’ve noticed, and it’s something that I feel could be preventing Capaldi from securing his spot in the Doctor pantheon.

It seemed producers knew there was an opportunity with the reboot to introduce a whole new generation of fans to the series, in part through the parents and other relatives who’d fallen in love with the series and its repeats.

It didn’t take long for the show to set the tone with Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor and Billie Piper’s Rose, with Eccleston grabbing Piper’s hand as she’s about to be killed by the mannequins and whispers, “Run!” A few minutes later, as he’s pushing her out the door, he introduces himself and says with a grin, “Run for your life!”

In those brief encounters, and then throughout the remainder of the episode, Eccleston establishes his doctor’s persona — he can be funny, but doesn’t suffer fools and is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

When he regenerated into the 10th Doctor in “The Christmas Invasion,” David Tennant spent much of the episode unconscious. But when he finally awakens, it’s just in time to save the day in an iconic scene that displays those common Doctor traits while also showing his unique blend of humor and boyish charm.

Matt Smith had some pretty big shoes to fill by the time he became the 11th Doctor in “The Eleventh Hour,” as Tennant became many newer fans’ — and even some older fans’ — favorite actor in the role. But with an early scene learning about his new taste buds (fish fingers and custard!), his choice of wardrobe and a final showdown with the Atraxi, his character was quickly defined and became beloved by many.

Now if you’ve been watching this new season of Doctor Who, tell me what his defining moment has been so far. Can you pinpoint it? I can’t. A recent discussion prompted the idea that it was his final meeting with the Half-Face Man, but we still don’t exactly know what happened to conclude that meeting — did he jump onto Big Ben’s spire, or was he pushed? There have been other moments in the series to date that have given more glimpses into his personality, his back story, but nothing that’s felt like a singular event that summed up his entire character.

But the more I think of it, maybe that’s the point of this new Doctor. The previews and promos leading into the series hinted that this Doctor would be darker and more mysterious, and I’d say that while we know more about him than when we started there’s still a long way to go. While with Tennant, Smith and even Eccleston to a lesser extent their personas were relatively well established early on. There may have been individual surprises, but the fundamentals didn’t change.

With Capaldi, those fundamentals are still in flux and undefined. It hasn’t affected the quality of the episodes, as I’ve found them entertaining, but I find it brings a vague sense of unease that runs under each. That only heightens the tension, even during lighter moments like during “Robot of Sherwood” and “The Caretaker.” However, that suspense of waiting for the defining moment has also kept any of the episodes from being truly great.

But I’m not going to fault Capaldi for that, and I’m certainly going to continue watching … and waiting.

Ouroboros

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A little over 14 years ago, I was saved from the Bridgeton court reporter beat with the offer of a job in the sports department of the Gloucester County Times and Today’s Sunbeam.

It was just shy of the 14th anniversary of that day that I was informed that my services would no longer be required by what has since become nj.com and the South Jersey Times come September.

Friday, Sept. 5 was my last day at the paper, the place I figured for a long time I’d be spending the rest of my professional career. I never would have predicted that when I started.

My degree is in broadcasting, and while I enjoyed reading and writing I never considered it as a career path. I always assumed I’d be doing TV or radio for the Atlanta Braves by now, but that never materialized. Instead I followed my heart to New Jersey back in 1996, and after a few years of bumming around and taking various jobs — including the job I had hoped previously would be my career, at TV Guide — I ended up at the Times.

That’s when I discovered high school sports, the communities and schools of Gloucester, Salem, Camden and Cumberland counties and the athletes, coaches and administrators that made them run. And I couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed it. So many coaches were great to deal with and interview, the kids were generally good (if occasionally a little shy and tongue-tied) and the ADs were often quite helpful and welcoming of anyone who wanted to give their school some press.

I also got to meet some pretty amazing people working in the industry, from the people in the sports department at the Times to news reporters, paginators, editors, advertising, production people — not everyone was perfect as is always the case in a business setting, but I made a lot of new friends. Then there were the reporters from other papers, once considered the “enemy” but many of whom I now consider good people and friends.

Luckily, as soon as word got out about the situation I and many of my co-workers found ourselves in, other publications both print and online were asking me if I wanted to do part-time work. Because of that, I’m staying involved covering St. Augustine football for the Vineland Daily Journal and girls soccer for South Jersey Sports Digest this fall. There may be other work as well, but nothing’s been finalized yet.

As far as full-time work, that is still a work in progress. Thanks to the state of the industry, it looks like that may very well have to come in another field, hopefully at least tangentially related. There’s a certain irony in that, considering the last few places I’ve worked significantly for are either dead, essentially dead or in a very different form than when I was there. Look out, whoever’s next!

From the time I covered my first game for the Today’s Sunbeam back in April 2000 to my last day in the office on Friday nearly 5,250 days later, the Internet has exploded to dominate information dissemination and Twitter has changed the way many people think about instant info. In the same time, the paper has shrunk in number of pages and page size, and readership has dwindled.

I don’t begrudge the technological advances, because I think they are amazing tools when used properly. Hopefully someday newspaper management will figure out how to provide things electronically and still preserve the print version, which I think still has a place in our society.

I have told numerous people that I never paid any attention to South Jersey sports before I started working at the paper, and even if I stop writing I can’t imagine not staying in touch with the scene because of the people involved and having become invested in the schools, the culture and the kids. It’s changed me in a fundamental way, and I think it’s for the better. I will always be thankful for that.

I’ll miss the people I’ve worked with, as I miss those who left before, and hopefully we will stay in touch and remain friends for life. But don’t cry for me, O South Jersey, because I won’t be (except for that one amazing message from a former high school athlete thanking me for changing her life that caught me completely off guard). I’m nostalgic, but have learned to be pragmatic as well and am looking forward to seeing what life brings next.

Whoops….

Well look at that.

Three and a half months since the last post about dusting this blog off.

My, how time flies.

But obviously I am feeling somewhat inspired again, or else I wouldn’t be here. So expect some things coming up over the next few days, and I honestly am going to try and update this thing on a more regular basis going forward.

Promise.

In the meantime, here’s a little something by way of an apology (or at least show you something I enjoy):

This place could use a good dusting

new-year-2014-versus-2013Wow, been a long time since I’ve been around here. I think the idea of having a separate blog which ended up also being about sports was a good idea in theory, but I think it felt a little too much like more work and I have more than enough of that as it is. So things got neglected, and at times I forgot I even had this blog.

But it’s a new year, and time for a new attitude. So I’m opening up the windows and letting some air in to help get rid of some of the dust that’s accumulated around here. I’ve changed the name (though that could go through a few more changes), the look, and the purpose of the site.

I’ll write here when I feel like it, which will hopefully be on a regular basis, and this time it’ll definitely be about whatever I feel like at the time. I have a lot of interests, at least some of which are on display in the new cover photo (which I hastily designed myself; impressive, right?), and I’ll write about them and other things.

Sports will still be welcome here, and I’ve added my Twitter feed which is mostly about sports since I use it for work. But I won’t be seeking out esoteric sports topics to explore further, unless that’s what I feel like doing. Otherwise it’ll be whatever, whenever, for however long I want. But spelling and grammar will still be a focus, because they’re always important.

So enjoy your time here. Hopefully there’ll be a lot more to explore in the near future as I get more random posts like this up. I still like a lot of what I did before, so check that out too, but from now on most of what I’ll be writing here will be a lot more off the cuff instead of researching and agonizing over every syllable. Let’s cut this sucker loose and see what happens.

The importance of being football

I had planned on writing on this blog regularly, and then life interfered — big time. Now it’s taken something like the abuse scandal and sanctions at Penn State to get me writing again. Not the way it should be, but the way it is. Again, I hope to write more on this blog in the future, and hopefully not just about sports.

But sports was originally the main purpose of the blog, and sports is what brings me back to it today. Or is it?

The statue of Joe Paterno outside of Beaver Stadium on the Penn State campus was taken down Sunday morning, but the memory of what brought it down will last far longer.

Obviously the sanctions levied against Penn State by the NCAA today are sports-related. The football program was hit with huge scholarship losses, a four-year bowl ban, probation and a loss of victories from 1998-2011 that sent Paterno tumbling from the top of the all-time wins list to 298 career wins. The school was also fined $60 million that will be put into an endowment for programs that either prevent child abuse or help victims of the crime. That doesn’t even include the sanctions applied by the Big Ten Conference.

Some have observed that while this stops short of the “death penalty” that some were predicting for the Nittany Lions, this might be worse because of the short- and long-term effect it will have. Current players are eligible to transfer to other schools and play immediately without penalty, and 20 scholarships a year lost is nearly a quarter of those typically used at top Division I schools. This could cripple the program for years to come, maybe decades.

Whether or not the punishment is appropriate is not up to me. The punishments levied were harsh but not surprising, and the death penalty wouldn’t have surprised me either. Nothing like this has ever happened before (that we know of, God forbid), so there’s no frame of reference for anyone to be saying the penalties are too severe. And being an Alabama fan, if I found out something like this were happening under Saban (or any previous coach) I wouldn’t expect or hope the punishment to be any less for the Crimson Tide.

What happened was a result of the Nittany Lions football team, its coach and the reputation of both meaning more to those in a position to stop the horrific events than the people whose lives were affected or ruined by those horrific events. Period. Those people in positions of power were both within the program and in the Penn State administration, making it more than just a football matter.

The Paterno family’s indignant reaction should be of little surprise either, as they’ve continued to listen to every new revelation and piece of evidence against their beloved patriarch with their fingers in their ears and making loud noises to drown it out. The only surprising thing to me was that the statement didn’t include a declaration that Paterno was still the all-time wins leader among Division I coaches — because that and JoePa’s legacy are the most important things.

Watching Penn State students on TV today react with shock and disappointment in the ruling, saying it’s too much and how terrible it is for them and their school, almost nauseates me. The fact that they can’t think about anyone but themselves after so much negative exposure for selfish attitudes throughout the scandal simply shows immaturity, to the point they certainly shouldn’t be sitting or standing in front of cameras and microphones held by people eager to exploit them for continuing live coverage.

But in their minds, this is just a sports story, a story hurting the team and school they love (many of them enough to pay a lot of money to attend). And yes, it is a sports story. More importantly, it’s a story about people, the people who were hurt by this tragedy and those who may potentially be helped by the money being “donated” by Penn State. Not everyone needs the reminder, but the fact that some still do continues to baffle me.

A Dunn, a Deer, a real bad Deer….

Rob Deer is often referenced by baseball fans when try to come up with a woeful average guy who still has some value due to impressive power. There’s good reason for this, considering his historic distinction of the record for lowest batting average for a batting title qualifier since 1920 (the live-ball era) with a .179 mark in 1991 with the Tigers.

Deer did hit 25 homers that season, but just 14 doubles and, thanks to the horrific average, just a .386 slugging percentage to go with a league-high 175 strikeouts. (Baseball Reference did a nice little piece with a chart that you can check out here.) But with the pace being set now, Deer might finally be off the hook as future fans might invoke the 2011 season of Chicago White Sox DH Adam Dunn.

Adam Dunn went 1-for-4 Sunday to raise his season average to .160.

As the chart shows, through Saturday’s game (yet another 0-for-4, this one with three strikeouts) Dunn was on pace to obliterate Deer’s standard for futility, hitting .159 in over 300 at-bats with a league-leading 118 strikeouts which puts him on pace for over 200 for the year. Perhaps even more telling: After seven straight seasons of at least 38 homers, Dunn is set to finish short of 20 at this rate.

The signs might have been there last year, when Dunn belted 38 homers and drove in 103 runs, actually finishing 21st in MVP voting and adding a career-high 36 doubles. He batted .260, actually one of the higher averages for a guy who’s a career .250 hitter coming into the year and hit a career-best .267 in 2009.

But he also set a new personal mark for strikeouts with 199 last year while walking just 77 times, his lowest total since 74 in his second full year in the bigs with Cincinnati in 2003, when he batted a career-worst .215. That was also the last year he didn’t reach 30 homers, but he “only” struck out 126 times. His batting average on balls in play was just .237 — the lowest mark until this season’s .235.

The difference this season is obviously the strikeouts, and the combination has produced these historically bad numbers. And the White Sox don’t exactly have a ton of other options either, meaning that Dunn will likely continue to get the at-bats necessary to stay on the list and surpass Deer’s abysmal campaign.

On that Baseball Reference chart (which goes back to 1893), practically every other player is from the dead-ball era with one notable exception — new Atlanta Braves second baseman Dan Uggla, who entered Sunday batting .186.

Dan Uggla is still hitting below .190 for the season, but has batted over .300 in the last two weeks and could finish with a fifth straight 30-homer season

Uggla’s season is different for a few reasons, however. First, the power is on par or better than Deer’s was back in ’91, with 15 dingers through 93 games. Also, his walk-to-strikeout ratio (31-84) isn’t as atrocious or even out of line with his career numbers.

The biggest thing for Uggla is that he’s actually showing signs of pulling out of his season-long funk. He’s batting .316 over the last two weeks with four doubles, three homers and six RBIs, seven walks and just nine strikeouts. That gives him an on-base percentage of .436 in that time, and a slugging mark of .719.

By contrast, Dunn has been even worse recently. Over the last 28 days, Dunn is hitting .088 with 35 strikeouts in 68 at-bats and just one double and two homers. His average on balls in play in that span? Just .129.

The White Sox signed Dunn to a four-year, $56 million contract in the offseason to acquire a reliable power source to anchor their lineup who would still be just 34 at contract’s end. Instead, they might have paid all that money for the answer to a trivia question.

A story straight out of Hollywood

Scene: Interior of Hollywood producer’s office. A loud beep comes from his desk.

Hollywood producer: Yes?

Secretary: The next struggling young screenwriter is here to see you, sir.

HP: Send him in.

The door opens, and a young man in slightly wrinkled suit clothes enters. His eyes are a little red, and he has noticeable bags under his eyes.

Struggling young writer: Hello, sir. Thank you for seeing me.

HP: Always happy to help a struggling young writer such as yourself. We’re always looking for the next blockbuster idea.

SYW: I think I might have a couple, sir. They’re sports movies.

HP: Hmmm. Not the first thing I want to hear, but I’ll give you a chance. Let’s hear the first one.

SYW: (a little nervously) All right. Here we go. Picture the most storied franchise in baseball, with one of the top players in the franchise’s long history replete with Hall of Famers….

HP: Wait, the hero plays for the superstar squad? That doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t the story be about the underdogs, overcoming adversity and overwhelming odds to knock off the No. 1 team?

SYW: But that’s what makes this story different. The team might not be liked by everybody, but the hero is almost universally respected. And he’s closing in on a milestone of 3,000 hits, which no one else in the history of the franchise has ever reached –

HP: What? No one in the history of the franchise has ever gotten 3,000 hits? Is this a fantasy story? Sci-fi?

SYW: No, seriously. But the player is on the downside of his career. His skills are starting to diminish, he’s not hitting the way he always has. The manager is still hitting him leadoff out of respect, but people are saying he should be dropped in the lineup or replaced. Then he gets hurt just a few hits shy and has to go on the DL, building the suspense further.

HP: (flipping through the story SYW has brought) Suspense? Everyone knows he’s gonna get it. The injury’s minor, and it certainly doesn’t threaten his career. All it does is drag it out longer and make it more excruciating for everyone.

SYW: Let me finish. He comes off the DL, and his first few hits are mostly little nubbers, nothing to prove he’s still got much left in the tank. Then just two hits shy of 3,000, he leads off an afternoon game with a single and then, in his second at-bat, golfs a 3-2 pitch into the stands for a home run and his 3,000th hit. He finishes the game 5-for-5, the last hit being a game-winning single in the bottom of the eighth.

HP: (staring at SYW) … Uh-huh. … Look, kid, nobody’s gonna buy this crap. And sports movies often don’t do well across the board, especially internationally. So let’s just –

SYW: Wait! My second story is about soccer, the most popular sport in the world!

HP: Well, that would almost guarantee a bomb stateside, but could really help the worldwide numbers where we make most of our money anyway. OK, kid. One more chance. Let’s hear it.

SYW: OK. It’s the Women’s World Cup –

HP: WHAT?!? Stop right there. Women? C’mon, kid, there’s only one “Bend It Like Beckham.” And we’ve already been pitched the story about the 1999 U.S. women’s team winning the cup on home soil with the penalty kicks and the chick ripping her shirt off after scoring the winning goal. Can you beat that?

SYW: Maybe. It’s not the final, though. It’s just the quarterfinal.

HP: Now that’s just a blatant ripoff of the 1980 U.S. men’s hockey team.

SYW: No, this isn’t a rag-tag group of kids who aren’t expected to win. This team might be the best in the tournament.

HP: Another favorite??

SYW: Hear me out. The women lose their last pool play match in ugly fashion, forcing them to play their arch-rival in the quarterfinal just to reach the final four. A team they lost to in the last Cup, 4-0.

HP: Sounds like hockey again….

SYW: Anyway, the team grabs an early lead, but the officiating seems to be going against them and they can’t build on their 1-0 lead. Then the rivals are awarded a penalty kick for a takedown in the box, with the offender being sent off with a red card. Now it’s 10-on-11 the rest of the way.

The goalkeeper makes an amazing save on the penalty kick, but the refs make a controversial call to give the rivals another chance at the penalty kick which they make. Now it’s tied with our heroes down a player. They make it to overtime, but give up a goal at the beginning of overtime, and now it’s even harder for the heroes to come back.

HP: Go on, go on….

SYW: Somehow the heroes keep coming, even as everything seems to be going against them. The rivals are stalling, faking injuries, doing everything they can to run out the clock and turn the audience against them. But that only adds extra stoppage time at the end of the second overtime, and the heroes use those couple of extra minutes to score a miracle goal and force penalty kicks, which they win with another amazing save by their keeper.

HP: … Look, kid, I like you. But the only reason people bought a story like “Miracle” is because they’ve seen video of that game from 1980 ever since.

The soccer team is down a player, and they win? … Nah, something like that could never happen. Come back when you’ve got stories that are a little more believable.