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Article:Counting 50 personal sports blessings for the New Year

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Well, we have survived another year. Many things have changed, but most fire hydrants remain the same, at least where I live. I will be going out and getting drunk on this grand day. When the masses drink, I join. Who am I to question this sweet ritual?

I do not relish being out and about during the holidays. The bar is crowded. The garden variety alcoholic is more apt to throw hands, and why the hell not, it's a special occasion. Every girl seems to have a boyfriend, and the couples are so damn happy. Bastards. I see bizarre styles, and wonder in vain if I could pull off those funky 2009 shades. No way in hell, I realize, no way in hell. And there's always this lonely former Army lieutenant named Dan, sitting by himself in a wheelchair, covered in confetti and staring straight ahead, perhaps still lost in the jungle... Maybe he'd feel better if he were wearing a top hat.

At 3 AM, when the place begins thinning out, night clearly waning, a man can realize how fortunate he is. The malice is misplaced for a moment, replaced with reverie, blessings counted and appreciated. I have many good things in my life, as we all do. Sports are very important to me. And in the spirit of the shifting digits, I shall tabulate fifty personal blessings born of athletics. I do not intend to speak for all us, though our feelings may be similar, especially if your residence is in New York. Feel free to add your own.

May God bless you in this coming year, or, if you are an atheist, the flying spaghetti monster.

In no particular order:

1. Curtis Martin: Watching this guy battle for extra yardage, consistently turning broken plays into two yard gains, was simply a gift, bought to Jet fans by a mysterious, all knowing power named Bill Parcells. Martin is an artist at heart. His talent painted a beautiful picture.

2. Derek Jeter: For every fisted fastball looping over the second baseman's head for a single.

3. Joe Torre: Yankee fans will never forget his dignity, or the way he scratched his dome, confounded, after a hardball question from Kim Jones on the Yes Network’s post-game show. ["Well..."]

4. Mariano Rivera: Trot Nixon might think a fastball on the outside corner is coming. But he has to protect against the cutter. There's just no other choice. He'll be damned if his bat gets splintered into a million different pieces... must cheat inside... and the crowd just exploded, the umpire burst into theatrics... outer half heat... It's not fair. Never has been.

5. Kevin Mawae: Clubbed opponents in 2004 with the huge cast protecting his broken hand. What more could be said?

6. Pedro Martinez: His detailed explanation in a video vignette during the 1999 playoffs, regarding why his freakishly long fingers created the most deadly change-up in baseball history, is an unforgettable memory. I have no idea why.

7. John Sterling: So it's June, and me and my friends are in the backyard, boozing it up and listening to the Yankee game on the radio. We're talking about just how infuriating it is when Sterling blows a Home Run call that was, in fact, a harmless fly to the warning track. We're really getting into it, doing impressions, laughing hysterically. And, as if by magic, the radio cackles, a familiar velvety voice prodding us to take notice: "Swung on and drilled to deep right-center field, Patterson back, a way back, it is high, it is far it is caught! At the wall..." And we go nuts. "HE GOT US AGAIN!"

8. Chad Pennington: I can still see perfect three yard leads to Jerald Sowell in my mind's eye.

9. Carlos Beltran: Beltran drifting back on a lazy can of corn is poetry in motion. Ridiculously underrated by some Mets fans, but what else is new in this city?

10. Alex Rodriguez: Breathtaking: A laser beam off the bat of Alex Rodriguez flying into the right-center field bleachers. The replays display a swing so effortless. Stop thinking please.

11. Laveranues Coles: Dashing over the middle, about to get obliterated by an incoming defensive back, he leaps into the air, prone...

12. George Steinbrenner: For investing in his team, and inspiring his sons to do the same.

13. The Boston Red Sox: For giving me someone so worthy to despise.

14. Scrappy, speedy, outfielders who don't draw walks: And drive seam-heads crazy. General managers can't get enough. Juan Pierre is the president of this club. Ichiro refuses to return the group's phone calls, like a political idealist seriously regretting his decision to join the independent party. Telethons are held to get Tike Redman a job. They always bat leadoff.

15. Bill Simmons: Nobody ever wrote about sports the way he did and made a legitimate mainstream impact. This is victory for originality, whether you love his work or loathe it.

16. Amy K. Nelson: Underrated columnist who always churns out quality work, with a positive angle that doesn't feel forced.

17. Jason Whitlock: Original thinker.

18. Scott Brosius: For becoming a deity to ignorant Yankee fans. The Scott Brosius cult will soon be open for business. We will sacrifice chickens to ensure the glorious return of our hero. I love this city.

19. Nomaas.com: The winner of the award for "Most utterly twisted message board that actually contains legitimate baseball insight." The pictures on the front page are still funny, but they will never again return to the apex of 2005, which featured classics including the Yankees as "Goodfellas" (also starring Curt Schilling) "Tony Womack for a bag of M&M’s” and my personal favorite: Mariano Rivera cloaked as "The Terminator".

20. Replacementlevel.com: The best baseball blog on the web.

21. Baseball Think Factory: Keeps one linked up to the brilliant insights of columnists all around the country. Members of the site are allowed to chime in and praise these absolutely essential additions to the American cannon. Noted celebrities such as Rob Neyer and Keith Law are known to post and leave mere mortals absolutely star-struck. The site is a cyber playground for that fifteen percent Lee Elia was so upset at.

22. Herm Edwards: Undoubtedly the most entertaining coach in Jets history. From his remarkable press conferences to the shenanigans lesser coaches call "clock management", Herm will be forever remembered as a paradox: how could a coach who plays to win the game be so damn conservative?  One day we may understand.

23. The New York Knicks: They make me feel like a competent human being.

24. Ray Mickens: For giving me someone to blame whenever something terrible happens to the Jet secondary, to this day. [GODDAMMIT MICKENS]

25. David Barrett: The latter day Ray Mickens.

26. The old Jet jerseys from the 90's: Shut up. They were awesome.

27. The interlocking NY: Keep hating. IT GIVES US POWER!

28. That asinine apple at Shea Stadium: So a guy hits a home run, and an apple protrudes out of a hat? What the hell? I love this city.

29. Yankee Stadium: Like Chris Moltisanti going to the movie theater, the smell alone got me high. Goodbye, old friend.

30. Youtube: I am blown away by the sheer amount of sports miscellany located at this address. It's great. You can watch the intro to some long forgotten NFC Championship. Relieve the absolute height of Jim Everett's career! This is insanity to some people. The first youtube video I ever watched featured squeamish Todd Pinkston dodging a hit downfield in an Eagles-Redskins game. Joe Theisman was absolutely disgusted. By the way Modest Mouse fans, there's new live material available. The Whale Song is amazing.

31. Brian Cashman: Undoubtedly carries briefcases full of money. We've come a long way. I hear Gabe Paul used to prefer brown bags with a green $ painted on. Cashman's obscenely boring interviews are a real treat. Rumor has it they are used as a torture device at Guantanamo Bay. ["Again, if something makes sense..."]

32. Robinson Cano: The sweetest swing in baseball today. He will bounce back big in 2009. Sportswriters will attribute this to something ridiculous, like Melky Cabrera being off the team or something.

33. Joba Chamberlain: How could anyone who watched Joba out-duel Josh Beckett 1-0 this July cling to the laughable notion he belongs in the bullpen? What the hell is wrong with you people? He was a starter his entire career. His relieving stint was an aberration. He throws four pitches. You don't put potential aces in the bullpen. Did the St. Louis Cardinals permanently place Adam Wainwright in the pen after he closed out their '06 championship? It's like the Chewbacca defense. "LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THIS SUPPOSED JURY, IT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE!" [Head explodes]

34. Celtic Pride: Does anyone else find this abysmally reviewed, universally despised sports comedy strangely worthy of repeated viewings? Maybe it's Marv. I think he's one of the greatest actors of this generation. You think I'm joking?

35. Edgardo Alfonzo: How to determine whether or not someone is a true fan of the orange and blue: Ask them about Edgardo. Hardcore Met fans like Mike Lupica will undoubtedly respond with unconditional love.

36. Roger Angell: In terms of pure writing skill, the best sports scribe ever.

37. Tom Boswell: Second best, in my mind.

38. Joe Posnanski: The contemporary champion.

39. Alex Belth and Bronx Banter: Really captures something beautiful about the baseball season: the day-to-day minutia that becomes a definite part of us. I could never say that about football.

40. The SI Vault: Because who wouldn’t want to reminisce with that front-page article debating the merits of Akili Smith and Tim Couch for first overall pick?

41. Mikefrancesa.com: A good board, but let's be honest, it'll never deliver in the big spot.

42. Jackie Robinson.

43. Larry Doby: His achievement was not appreciated because people are obsessed with simplifying things. ["So Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier... and everyone lived happily ever after. Good night, you freaking mutant."]

44. The Baseball Network: I have high expectations. By the way, what the hell happened to ESPN Classic? Hey, I guess its destination TV for bull-riding fans everywhere.

45. Playmakers: A very good television show, the demise of which is a book, not just an article, in itself.

46. David Halberstam and "Summer of 49": Brilliant man, amazing book.

47. Tony Romo: Hidden under the hype is an exciting, playmaking quarterback who will be the scapegoat for his team’s many deficiencies.

48. Free Agency: Without which, the Yankees would not exist. God bless America. Never forget Curt Flood.

49. Bud Selig's face of detached bewilderment: Bud wants to know why these things keep happening.

50. Cold weather NFL Games: Fields frozen and raw... wide receivers hiding hands in pouches at every opportunity... muddied defensive lineman charging after a slow footed quarterback… it's good to be here.


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