Friday, February 27, 2009

The Old Redskins Are Back

Well, after a year-long hiatus, the old Redskins have returned. Last offseason, Washington made very few waves in the free agent market, instead focusing on the draft and holding onto their own players. Early this morning, the Redskins re-signed DeAngelo Hall for $54 million over six years, then just hours later completed a deal to bring Albert Haynesworth, the jewel of this year's free agent class, to town. The price? A cool $100 million over seven years.

I'm not sure how I feel about the policy as a whole, but I do like both of the players. Whether they'll be worth their price, that's something we'll find out over the next two, three, four years. The local sports talk radio station had a free agency special this morning, where I heard a couple of interesting things.
  1. One of the Redskins top two corners from the beginning of 2008 will most likely not be back. The initial word is that Carlos Rogers is being shopped around; trading him would save a few million dollars towards the cap, though there would be a cap penalty that would mitigate the savings. The other option is to cut Shawn Springs, which is something we've heard about since late in the season as being at least a possibility. Springs ended up playing both corner and safety last season, safety more so after the 'Skins acquired Hall. Cutting springs would free up $6 million in cap room. With Hall obviously locking down one of the starting spots, it's unlikely that Washington will spend big money on a nickel corner, so unless Springs moves to safety full time (where he'd be far more expensive than current safety Chris Horton), one of these guys is gone.
  2. Local radio host Andy Pollin still believes (and I'm starting to see it more) that Jason Taylor will be cut by the Redskins this offseason. Taylor will count as $8 million against the cap this year, and because he was acquired via trade, there is no cap penalty for releasing him. That means $8 million in savings by cutting a guy who had 29 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 13 games for the 'Skins, and will be turning 35 around opening day. I'd still be surprised if they cut him, but that's a lot of money to be putting into a guy who could certainly be unimpressive this season.
  3. Vinny Cerrato, Executive Vice President of Football Operations, came on the show briefly and said that the Redskins were actually slightly outbid on both players, but were still able to sign them. Apparently, the Haynesworth deal has about $15 million in incentives, so maybe he was referring to the base salaries. Still, I like performance incentives; they're a good way to hedge your investment while still giving the player an opportunity to make a lot of money.
I can't say for sure that these were the moves that needed to be made, but they differ a little bit from some of the more famous Redskins deals in the past. First, they're two young players. This isn't Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders, these are youngsters who should still have plenty of mileage left in them. Second, they weren't brought in to band-aid the problem. Six- and seven-year contracts are long-term investments (though Derrick Dockery would disagree), so Hall and Haynesworth should be staples of the defense for years to come.

Do I wish we could be more like the Steelers and Giants, drafting smart and only going into free agency to grab role players? Of course. Every team would like their draft picks to all work out. But it's become clear that the Redskins are pretty bad at drafting, so why not spend your money on free agents? I've never doubted that everyone in the franchise, from ownership on down, has wanted to win, and that's really all I can ask.

Housington Blog Xbox Gamerscore Leaderboard

I've created a custom leaderboard for Xbox gamerscores, open to anyone interested in joining. For the moment, I'm the only gamertag on the list, but just let me know and I'll add you to the list.

Please note: I might just add you without waiting for your request.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rock Band RPG

I've been spending some time thinking about what I would really like to get out of Rock Band. I mean, of course it's a great party game, good fun for the whole family, and it's got all the personal challenges you could get in the Guitar Hero series. But now that Guitar Hero came out with World Tour, and there's at least one other game in the genre (Rock Revolution, which sounds like it's the ugly step-brother of Rock Band and GH:WT), it's time to explore what else this type of game can be.

And for me, the logical progression makes the next Rock Band game (or more likely, Rock Band 4) a role-playing game. Now, before you run off and talk about how Joe wanted to add swords and dragons to Rock Band, take a minute to realize what a role-playing game is. Fallout 3 is absolutely a role-playing game. To an extent, so is Grand Theft Auto IV. The basic concept is that you control the existence of your character(s) and march them through some sequence of challenges. If that doesn't sound like the path to stardom for a band, you're out of your mind.

(This is gonna be a long-ass post, by the way, so grab a cup of coffee, some Girl Scout cookies, and pull up a chair).

I've come up with some basic ideas about what a Rock Band RPG would entail. Below, I'll go into some of the features I think could be really exciting. And hopefully, I'll flesh out the concept enough for you to tell your friends about it...especially if your friends work for Harmonix. At the very least, if you think this idea has some legitimate merit, talk it up wherever you talk things up. A decent place to start would be the Rock Band 2 forums. I've looked on there, and the only thing it seems like people say about Rock Band 3 is the songs they want in it. I think bigger. The way I'm going to write this is as if the game already exists, and I'm describing its features to you as someone who's played the game.

Preview

The most noticeable and pervasive addition to the Rock Band RPG is the concept of "style." This concept draws from the function of the same name in the Saints Row series, where you earn bonus respect by completing tasks with stylish outfits. Winning a race while wearing a sport coat and slacks gets you more respect than winning a race with a tank top and ripped jeans. The same concept applies to Rock Band RPG.

It starts right from the get-go. When you create your band, you create a band member for each instrument, and declare your band as focusing on a particular genre. You can play all songs, of course, but you'll receive a style bonus for playing songs of your particular genre (to provide a similar variety of songs for each genre, multiple genres are encompassed by one umbrella category: hard rock/metal/industrial, punk/emo, etc). What do I mean when I say "bonus?" When you play a show in Rock Band and Rock Band 2, you earn two performance-based rewards: fans and money. In the Rock Band RPG, your band receives a slightly larger bump in fans by playing a song in your band's genre. As a result, the songs that your fans will appreciate the most won't necessarily be the overall most difficult songs in the game; they'll be the most difficult songs in your genre. Think Everlong for the alternative genre, Next To You for the punk/emo genre, Green Grass And High Tides for the southern rock/country genre.

But that's just one part of the equation to determine how successful a performance was. Obviously how well the song was performed (# of stars) would be the main determining factor. In addition to the song genre bonus, you get bonuses for matching up apparel genres, instrument genres, and venue genres. There's also be a built-in standard benefit, even if an item doesn't match your genre (playing a gold-plated guitar would be beneficial regardless of whether you're playing Pink Floyd or Pink).

Now on to the actual gameplay. You're still playing songs, building your song library, and accumulating money and fans, but the mechanism is more complex. For example, before you can play a song in a show, you have to practice it to a certain level of expertise (something fairly low, say 3 stars, basically just completing the song). And in order to acquire new songs, you have to actually "buy" the music using the cash earned from your shows.

You start in the city of your choice, which has several small venues that don't require any sort of special credentials, just a willingness to play for peanuts. The calendar function is a good addition, where you can schedule individual shows as well as "tours," for which you can produce T-shirts, hats, stickers, etc, to try to bring in some more cash. You still need a van/bus/airplane to expand the area in which you could play shows, but instead of just playing a gig and getting them, you pay for each as your band needs them. And logically, you aren't able to do a tour until you at least own a van to transport your band and equipment around. Additionally, you need to hire a sound guy and lighting company to play a gig in large stadiums, and different lighting companies provide higher or lower bonuses to your performance ratings.

One of the most exciting concepts of Rock Band RPG is your agent. You start out and they just let you know about potential gigs, give you some tutorials on how to book shows, and tips on how to increase your style. But as you grow, they become your one-stop shop for making money and booking shows. Your agent looks for opportunities, such as a chance to tap into large audiences by opening for bands who have songs the game (but of course, preventing you from playing any songs by that band in your set). They also arrange for the creation of CDs, DVDs, and merchandise. The agent also handles advertisements for said CDs and merchandise, and when you get big enough to do your own tours, handles finding bands from the game to open for you.

(end preview)

There would have to be a suspension of critical thought, since your band would just be a cover band, which would never make it very big. But we're video game players; we've learned over the years to take most games at face value. The potential for this Rock Band RPG to be fun is, I think, immense. Among my Rock Band-playing friends, I've received only very positive feedback about the idea. And of course, this doesn't have to be the limit at all. You can integrate costs for everything that your band has to work with, such as rent, fuel, hotel accomodations, and the costs associated with making T-shirts, CDs, etc. It's really up to the game maker to decide how complex the system will be.

I simply can't get this idea out of my head now. I get disappointed every time I play Rock Band 2, because I find myself hoping what future versions of the game might offer. So I'm going to try to spread the word about this idea and see if I can't get some steam rolling on the idea. Any comments, ideas, questions are more than welcome. I love talking about this idea. Comment away.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Games For Sale or Trade

I'm clearing out some of my personal inventory of older games, and passing the savings on to yooooooou!

The following Xbox and PlayStation 2 games are up for grabs. I'd like some money for them, but I'm open to interesting trades as well. I'm not looking for huge money or big trades, but I'm much more interested in moving many/all of the games rather than individual games. We'll say $5 for any single game, with dramatic decreases for each additional game.

Xbox
Battlefield 2
Call of Duty 2
College Hoops 2k6
Freedom Fighters
Jaws Unleashed
Madden '08
NBA 2K5
NBA 2k6
NBA Live '07
NCAA Football '08
NHL 2K7
Scarface: The World Is Yours
Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell

Playstation 2
Dynasty Warriors 3: Xtreme Legends
Gran Turismo 3: A-spec
Gran Turismo 4
The Getaway
Tony Hawk's Underground
Tony Hawk's Underground 2
Winning Eleven 8

I'll update the list as people lay claim to games. I'll also be posting one of these for movies in the next few weeks.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A New Type of Baseball League?

In sitting around the office yesterday, thinking about random baseball things, I came up with what might be a revolutionary idea in fantasy baseball fun leagues. I say "fun leagues" because this idea would never fly in a money league or any league you would want to take even remotely seriously. And I say "might" because it could either be a stupid idea or an idea that loads of other people have already thought of and it still hasn't caught on. But I still think it could be pretty fun.

The idea is essentially drawn from the concept of a "shopping spree." You set up a Yahoo league with an offline draft, and set undrafted players to be free agents right away. Then, you get your whole league together in your chat room of choice (I use AIM, but Yahoo or gmail chat will probably work fine). Once everyone's in the chat room and ready, have your commissioner submit draft results and start the league. What draft results, you ask? None. All teams will have empty rosters when the league starts, and all players will be free agents when the league starts. Then it's a mad dash for all players.

The frantic pace of player acquisition has got to be insane, not unlike that of a shopping spree. You'll grab a guy, go through the process of attempting to add him, and suddenly you'll get an error message indicating that the player is on a team. Bam! Slap in the face, but no time to be pissed or find out who took him, you gotta move and grab someone else before they're gone, too.

So do you go for the top tier guys and trust that you'll get at least a couple of them, even though you'll likely miss out on several? Or do you go down the list a little bit with the belief that you're more likely to be able to grab them and give yourself a team that's deep? Do you forego hitting early on, knowing that most people will be targeting hitters, and try to solidify a great pitching staff? WHAT DO YOU DO?

We're planning on doing this in a fun league sometime in the fairly near future. I'll give you guys a run down on what happened after we do it. If you're interested in joining us, just send an email to Joe & Joe Sports.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rock Band/Rock Band 2: Top 10 Drumming Songs

I was going to separate these lists, but as Shakespeare told us, brevity is the soul of wit. So, instead of two Top 5 lists, I've got one top 10 list. (Also, there are more great drumming songs on Rock Band 2 than on Rock Band). All of these are evaluated based on the "Hard" difficulty level. I can't play most songs on Expert, and Medium just doesn't have enough notes to be that fun.

10. Mississippi Queen, by Mountain (Rock Band)
9. Alive, by Pearl Jam (Rock Band 2)
8. Foreplay/Long Time, by Boston (RB)
7. E-Pro, by Beck (RB2)
6. Black Hole Sun, by Soundgarden (RB)
5. Everlong, by Foo Fighters (RB2)
4. Lump, by Presidents of the United States of America (RB2)
3. Go Your Own Way, by Fleetwood Mac (RB2)
2. Spoonman, by Soundgarden (RB2)
1. Detroit Rock City, by Kiss (RB)


Boring, right? I had initially started to write little blurbs about each song, but then I realized they were all pretty much the same: "Sweet fills, started out really challenging but once I got the hang of it, it was really fun." Spoonman and E-Pro have drum solos, those are cool, though Spoonman's is a lot more crazy than E-Pro's. The hardest thing about playing the drums on Hard is hitting the bass at a much higher frequency than Medium.

The hardest thing about Expert is getting digitally punched in the face by a video game.

Fantasy Baseball Draft: Where Do We Go From Here?

So here's the follow-up post to my post about who I think are the first-round quality players this year in fantasy baseball. The idea behind this post will be to examine what you should do next. I'm not going to go into specific pick-by-pick analysis; as I said, I want to avoid doing an entire mock draft. The idea behind this post will be to recommend what sort of players you should put around your first round pick to complement his skills.

One thing I want you all to keep in mind is that everything changes in the draft. My list will probably be obsolete by the time you hit pick #8 anyways, so be ready to adapt. And if someone keeps getting passed up, don't stick to your game plan. If Kinsler falls to you and you already have Utley, you'd better take a long look at him. If Hamilton and Howard go in the first round (as they often will), take some time to figure out how that changes what you can expect at your pick in the second round. Part of the reason that the draft is the most fun (and most stressful) day of the fantasy season is that you have to change everything on the fly. Read what you can, develop lists, and most importantly, have fun.

For kicks, we'll start with my #12 selection, Carlos Beltran.

12. Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets - Beltran has a great balance of skills, which makes your next pick both difficult and easy. Generally, when you take an across-the-board talent first, you can just go with the best available player next, but I actually recommend leaning towards power in this situation. You'll find more 40-steal guys than 40-homer guys, and they're available much later in the draft (see Taveras, Willy and Pierre, Juan). A solid second-round pick here would be someone like Ryan Howard or Josh Hamilton; I'm gonna say Hamilton in order to protect the batting average more, since that's Beltran's one so-so category. Later in the draft, you'll want to look for more balanced guys, with batting average being the one category you need to protect.

11. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers - Kinsler is similar to Beltran in that he gives you production across the board, but he's got less power and more batting average and speed than Beltran. For this reason, I think you go with a big bopper second, and Ryan Howard is as big a bopper as there is. Some people think Longoria will be good for at least 35 and 110, so I could see a riskier owner taking a chance on him, since he'll undoubtedly have a higher average than Howard. But I think you go with the more sure thing, especially since Kinsler has only one year at elite production levels. That'll be your story for the rest of the draft, as well. When you're picking between players, draft the more known commodities, since your first round pick is a little of a gamble. Magglio Ordonez, Vladimir Guerrero, and Brandon Webb are some of the safer bets you'll want to target.

10. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies - Utley can put you in a great position by getting surprising pop from the second base position, which gives you elite flexibility when it comes to the future of your draft. My instinct is to tell you to pair him up with Howard or Rollins if they're available; it's a very good lineup in a great ballpark, and getting more pieces of it is never a bad thing. I'd also consider Johan Santana or Tim Lincecum here (I like Santana better), as starting pitching is pretty thin at the top this year. The rest of the draft, I'd look to alternate speed/power, and just focus on keeping your batting average solid. Utley will give you such an advantage at 2B that you'll have a leg up on all of your competitors.

9. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees - With Teixeira, you've got the power categories in real good shape. That said, I'd think strongly about going power again here, if you can get a guy who produces like Tex. Hamilton is a nice pick here, and if you're willing to tie up your utility spot early, Berkman and Morneau are appealing as well. Rollins, Longoria, or one of the big two SPs wouldn't be unreasonable either. The nice thing about drafting an elite power 1B first round is that you don't lock yourself into a pick for the second round. You got exactly what you wanted out of first base, so now just look for top talent. In the later rounds, stick with the "best available" mantra, and let your team fulfill expectations (get speed out of your middle infield and one outfield spot, power from OF and 3B).

8. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers - See Teixeira. Seriously, the descriptions will be pretty much identical. It's going to be hell for these two guys to draft next to each other, because they're going to have pretty similar needs.

7. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers - With Braun in the outfield, I'd take a long look at any bopper 1Bs remaining: Howard, Morneau, and Berkman are all solid picks here. There's a pretty big dropoff when it comes to those guys, and I definitely feel better with Morneau on my team than Prince Fielder or Adrian Gonzalez. And I wouldn't hesitate to nab either Santana or Lincecum at this point, either. The remainder of your draft is fairly wide open, similar to #'s 8 and 9. You'll want standard production from each position.

6. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets - This sort of highlights one of the weaknesses of drafting a guy like Reyes in the first round. He's a huge source of steals; so huge, in fact, that he makes any other steals guys seem unappealing. You shouldn't even consider Upton or Ichiro here, because you'll likely end up wasting steals after you fill out your team. Longoria is a good match, same with Morneau or Berkman. Throughout the draft, you'll be almost avoiding steals, because you don't want to "pay" for the value of any guy who steals more than 20 bases. Match Reyes up with Carlos Lee and/or Kevin Youkilis, and this is one team where I'd strongly consider drafting either Soto or McCann at catcher in the 5th or 6th, to ensure power value out of a weaker position.

5. Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians - This is really where the pressure cooker starts to heat up. The problem is that Sizemore certainly could hit as low as .265. If you match him up with someone in the second round who isn't a very strong bet to hit .300, you'll be playing catch up in batting average all year, probably without much success. Carlos Lee, Morneau, and Hamilton both look good here, but if they're all gone, you might actually consider taking a huge gamble and drafting Manny Ramirez. His production could be out of this world, early first round value, and he should hit at least .310, possibly a good deal higher. I wouldn't want to take a pitcher here; shoring up the batting average is too important. So important, in fact, that you'll probably spend half the draft trying to find ways to improve. Ordonez, Chipper Jones, and possibly David Ortiz will be good selections for this team. And you've got to avoid Adam Dunn, Dan Uggla, and Carlos Pena like the plague.

4. David Wright, 3B, Mets - Having Wright as your first pick puts you in a pretty favorable situation, in that he gives you bonus production pretty much across the board above what you'd expect from a solid 3B. I'd love to get Ichiro or Carlos Lee here, but if they're gone, that probably means either Santana or Lincecum is available, so you're sitting pretty either way. A team with Wright drafts normally the rest of the way, probably with an alternating power/speed makeup like that I described the post-Utley draft strategy. Prince Fielder and Matt Kemp are good targets in the 3rd and 4th, respectively.

3. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees - Another mirror image, this time of David Wright. A-Rod has a little more "natural power" (get it? hahaha) than Wright, but for drafting purposes the rest of the way, I'd treat them the same.

2. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals - Pujols owners should draw from my analysis of Teixeira to figure out their direction, but of course, drafting this much later in the second round gives a different perspective. A few guys I haven't recommended yet that you'd want to consider here would be Alfonso Soriano, B.J. Upton, and Matt Holliday. All of them have some question marks, but their potential production could be huge. With a stud like Pujols as your first pick, I like a little gamble with the second pick. Still, as the draft moves on, you'll want to stay with more reliable guys. Having Pujols puts you in a good position right away; you don't want to concede that by drafting too risky.

1. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins - And so we're back where we started. Having Ramirez puts you in a very good position for the rest of the draft. The same three guys I mentioned for Pujols make sense here (Soriano, Upton, Holliday). One of the big advantages of Hanley is the strength he gives you across the board, and you'll want to take advantage of that by drafting a guy in the second round who can keep boosting most of those numbers. After the second (and third picks; gotta love the wraparound), you'll be okay with focusing more on the 2- or 3-category guys. Protect batting average, and you'll be in a good position to take home the league.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Let's Stop Driving: Traffic

Perhaps the most noticeable and most convincing piece of evidence that humans shouldn't be driving is the existence of traffic. Traffic represents a breakdown in the flow of the system. While a properly running transportation system should be bereft of bottlenecks, the Washington, DC area is a veritable bonanza of traffic jams.

It stands to reason that there was a time in human history when there were no traffic jams, probably for the first five, ten, maybe even twenty years of the existence of the automobile. And then, at some point, there were so many cars that people had to start waiting in line to drive from point A to point B. What was the solution? Widen the roadways. So crews were assembled, the ground was broken, and the roads were widened. And when the dust cleared, the traffic jams were gone.

Sure enough, though, as time wore on, more and more cars were being used, and traffic jams started popping up again. This time, however, maybe widening the roadways wasn't an option, because you'd have to tear down buildings. So what did we do? We built more roads. With more options of which road to use to get from point A to point B, fewer people would be on each road, and that would lessen traffic. And it did. The traffic jams disappeared, and everyone could drive without being hindered by the existence of other cars on the roads. But what happened next was really amazing, and was something that no one could have predicted.

More cars showed up, and traffic jams formed again. The same strategies were employed: more roads, wider roads. And they helped for a while, until the traffic jams cropped up again. This cycle has continued for decades, and continues today, except for one noticeable difference: we don't get rid of the traffic jams anymore.

It reminds me of Tetris. You start building up, leaving that one-block-wide spot at the end to drop the long pieces in to get the "Tetris," the four-line completion. And it works for a while; you drop in the long pieces, knock out four lines, and keep going. But as time wears on, the blocks next to the hole accumulate and get closer to the fatal top of the screen. And at some point, you say, "Alright, I'll just drop this one piece in there and get a couple of lines, then I can get back to working on Tetrises. But of course, you don't. You catch another bad piece, and have to cover up the hole, "temporarily" you tell yourself. And before you know it, it's a race just to stay alive.

That's how it is with traffic. We're no longer working to prevent traffic jams altogether. We're just trying to mitigate their impact, and spread them out over a larger area. But they're completely beyond our ability to control at this point. Am I the only one who finds that worrisome? We've created a monster that we can't control. This is like Jurassic Park; traffic is the velociraptors. It's only a matter of time before it gets out of hand and we're running for our lives...alright, maybe that analogy isn't as good as the Tetris one, but you get my point.

The reality is that every day you'll see work being done to expand roads, add a lane here, build another highway there. But no one has any hope of actually eliminating traffic as a time drain on all of us. We're willing to settle for a slight reduction in backups, and saving 5% off our daily commute.

If we're going to spend money, lots of money every year, expanding and "improving" our road system, shouldn't we start to look at other options that might dramatically increase the efficiency of our transportation systems?

One last point that I didn't really make clear in my first post: I don't have an answer. I think a top-flight mass transit system is a good idea, but it's certainly not going to eliminate our dependence on motor vehicles altogether, which means it's not going to solve the traffic problem completely. The intention of these blog posts is not to try to sell a specific transportation idea; it's to sell the conversation. I think people should be talking about this as a real problem.

This post is running long, so I'm gonna cut it here. But if any of what I've said has given you pause, take the next step. Ask someone you think is smart what they think of the situation. Like I said, all I want is the conversation.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fantasy Baseball First Round

Initially, I considered putting together an entire mock draft, but I decided against it for two reasons. First, I'm in a highly competitive keeper league that involves several of the writers for Joe & Joe Sports. If I were to start posting round after round of a mock draft, I'd either A) give away my opinions on various players, or B) use misinformation to try to throw off my competitors, but in doing so, offer you, the reader, a less than perfect product. Neither of those was acceptable, so I've decided just to do the first round. None of these players will be available in our draft, so there's nothing to hide, no need for misinformation.

Here we go.

1. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins - Hanley has become one of the best across the board players in recent fantasy memory. He's the 2005-2006 Shawn Marion of fantasy baseball (for those of you who know fantasy basketball). He produces towards the top in several categories, and the word is that he'll be dropped to third in the lineup to give his power a better opportunity to generate RBIs. While his steals might slip a little at that lineup position, I still see him as good for 20-25, and the bump in RBIs will be well worth the change.

2. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals - Most lists you see will have Alex Rodriguez at #1 or #2, but I'm taking Pujols ahead of A-Rod. It has nothing to do with the steroid revelation (which as you may have read doesn't bother me or Joe at all). It's the simple fact that batting average is getting harder and harder to find in the middle and late rounds of the draft. So to put yourself in prime position to compete in that category, you need your first few picks to be studs. Pujols is the definition of a batting average stud, with a career average of .334. Also, he's got some pop; his floor is 30-100-100.

3. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees - Rodriguez somehow got almost completely excluded from the MVP talk last year, but he was right up there as far as the total package. He had a ho-hum .302-35-103-104-18 season that was somehow a disappointment. Fantasy owners know better than to question that kind of production. You could make a case for A-Rod all the way to the top. The first tier includes these three players, so drafting at #3 is one of the more favorable draft positions.

4. David Wright, 3B, Mets - Of course, that makes #4 one of the less desirable draft positions, but you can still be happy about landing Wright. He's consistently increased his fantasy value by improving in different statistics each year. In 2007, he hit .325 with 34 steals. In 2008, his average dropped to .302 and his steals to 15, but he posted a career-high 115 runs and 124 RBIs. While there may be some fluctuation in his individual numbers, you can be sure that he'll be a 5-category plus player, and the value in that is substantial.

5. Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians - The #5 spot might be even less appealing than the#4 hole. Wright is kind of a sure thing at #4, but by #5, you're pretty much out of 5-category guys. Sizemore had his worst career batting average last year at .268, but posted career-highs in HR (33), RBI (90), and SB (38), while scoring at least 100 runs for the fourth straight season. Additionally, he was a .282 career hitter before last season, and his team was terrible last year. What I'm saying is that Sizemore was among the best players in baseball as far as production last year, and he's got the potential to improve noticeably.

6. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets - The position scarcity at SS in recent years might've made you scramble for Reyes as early as #2, but SS is stronger this year than it's been in a while, so Reyes should be evaluated more on his raw statistics. They are definitely impressive, especially when you consider that Reyes' 56 steals were a four-year-low. He's got some pop, though he'll never hit 30 HR or have 90 RBI. But his value as a leadoff hitter for one of the best lineups in the NL is enough to warrant a pick right here in the top half of the first round.

7. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers - Braun pretty much mirrored his outstanding rookie season except for a drop off in batting average from .324 to .285. The 2008 number is more along the lines of what you can expect from Braun, as his 2007 average was bumped by hitting a ridiculous .450 against lefties. Braun has three plus categories, and the other two (average and steals) he's good enough to not hurt you.

8. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers - If you're unsure as to how excited people were about Cabrera going into last year, consider this: Cabrera was a disappointment at .292, 37 HR, 127 RBI, 85 R. He still boasts a .309 career batting average, and as long as you believe he'll be around that number, he's worth a pick in the middle of the first round. He's still only 25, so according to conventional wisdom, his power is still growing. Another step forward for Cabrera puts him near Pujols' production.

9. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees - I've seen a lot of people putting Josh Hamilton over Teixeira, and it blows my mind. Hamilton could be a .300, 30, 110 hitter on yearly basis; Teixeira is that already. And certainly there's no way that a move to the Yankees and one of the strongest lineups in baseball hurts his production. I wouldn't be surprised if Tex drove in 150 runs in 2009.

10. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies - The talk continues to be that Utley will be able to play on opening day. While I still think he may start out on the 15-day DL, I'll take 90% of a season of Utley over most everybody. He puts up elite numbers for any position, and he plays one of the two truly scarce positions (the other being catcher). I'm willing to tie my fate to Utley late in the first, knowing that if he were certain to be healthy, he'd likely be my #1 pick.

11. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers - I know, I just said that 2B was a scarce position; it just so happens that Kinsler has really blossomed into a beautiful young woman...well, in fantasy baseball terms. He missed 41 games due to an August sports hernia, but was still a top 25 rated hitter by Yahoo at the end of the season. Project his numbers for a full season and here's what you get: .319, 22 HR, 88 RBI, 126 R, and 32 SB. That puts him in Hanley territory. I'm sold.

12. Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets - This is a real shocker for a lot of you, I bet. In doing some mock drafts over at Mock Draft Central, I've seen Hamilton, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Johan Santana all go in the first round with more frequency than Beltran, and in Yahoo's "expert" mock draft, they all go ahead of Beltran, as do Prince Fielder and B.J. Upton. But take a moment and look for the hole in Beltran's fantasy game. Go ahead, I'll wait. Having trouble? There really isn't one. He went for .285, 27 HR, 112 RBI, 116 R, and 25 SB in 2008, and he'll still be just 31 on opening day. The Mets' lineup is stacked (as evidenced by the two other Mets in this first round mock), and Beltran is a safe bet to post similar numbers in 2009.

So that's it, that's your first round mock draft. I've got a follow-up post brewing in my head, hopefully I'll have time at work Monday or Tuesday to write it. Stay tuned. And no, it's not a second round mock draft. I'm more creative than that...marginally.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I, For One, Am Glad A-Rod Tested Positive

Joe already discussed the revelation that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003. But since it's a pretty big revelation, I would like to expound upon one of the points he made.

Joe (no, not me, the other one) asked how the A-Rod positive test will impact the Hall of Fame selection of players from the steroids era. Well, luckily I'm here to tell you. It means that no longer can the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America pick and choose who gets into the Hall of Fame based on who they guess used steroids. Everyone who played baseball from roughly 1990 through 2005 has to be considered as player that may have used performance enhancing drugs. The argument used on Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and, eventually, Barry Bonds that "oh, man, that guy got really big during his playing career, so he must have used steroids" can no longer be used, since Alex Rodriguez (and, as Joe mentioned, at least 104 other players) wasn't a typical muscle-bound slugger.

In fact, A-Rod was the last bastion for pundits that thought they could differentiate between players that did and did not use performance enhancers. Prior to two days ago, these writers would point to Rodriquez and say "He's lean, agile, fast and proof that supreme natural talent and hard work can still succeed in the steroids-era". Whoops, that argument doesn't hold water anymore. Every single player in the steroids era (and especially those be considered for the Hall of Fame) has to be considered a user of performance enhancing drugs. Yes, this means Griffey, yes, this means Manny Ramirez and, yes, this means Greg Maddux too.

So writers, here's where it gets easy. Either a player gets into the Hall of Fame based upon his performance on the field (which we now have to assume was aided by performance enhancing drugs) or NOBODY from the steroids era gets into the Hall of Fame. If you are a voting member of BBWAA decide right now whether or not you think a player that used performance enhancing drugs is worthy of the Hall of Fame. If the answer is no, then punch "no" on your HOF ballot every time a player from 1990-2005 comes up. If the answer is yes, then vote based on the players accomplishments. It's just that simple and that's why I'm glad A-Rod tested positive.

Walt Disney World Trip: Day 4, Part 2 (Monday PM)

We got back to the hotel at around 2:00, and my mom left for her massage at about 2:40. When she left, she said if we wanted to head to the park before she got back, she would just meet us there. Initially, I didn't expect to do this, but as time went on, it became more and more of a plan. I can only watch so many episodes of Disney Channel shows before I get antsy. So Kevin and I headed to the park at around 4:15, and left a note for my mom.

Kevin and I weren't really sure what we wanted to do when we arrived, so we wandered around Fantasyland for a while to ponder our plan. We stopped by Mickey's Philharmagic, but sadly it was closed for refurbishments. This might mean they're adding to the show, which is cool, but it sucks that we missed one of the better attractions. My mom called as we were wandering around and let us know she was leaving the hotel. Not having any other plans on what to do, we hopped on Mad Tea Party, which had virtually no line (this would sort of be the standard for the evening). Kevin and I then hit up Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin again, and met up with my mom as we were leaving this ride.

As it was getting to be nighttime and the weather was cooling off, my mom wasn't crazy about going on Splash Mountain, so she waited and watched the evening parade while Kevin and I went on the ride. There was no wait. And I don't mean there was a short wait. There was no wait. We followed the queue right up to the ride boat. And after the ride, we could've just stayed in the boat for another round; there was no one waiting to get in. Apparently the parade is a big hit, but also, the park switched to Extra Magic Hours around this time, so it was clearing out a little bit, too.

One of my mom's favorite rides is the Haunted Mansion, so we headed over there next. We probably waited all of five minutes for this ride, three of which were because the ride stopped briefly and the line didn't move forward. As we were exiting the Haunted Mansion, we heard the booming of fireworks, and tried to find a good spot to watch them. It's a nice show with some Disney music to go along with it, and there's something that gets me about seeing the fireworks with "When You Wish Upon A Star." What can I say, I'm a sap.

After the fireworks, we stayed in Fantasyland and hopped on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, the last of our favorites from the 2008 trip that we hadn't ridden yet. At this point, we were once again in a wandering mood, and we headed over to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority for a night ride (separate review below). Kevin and I made the Tomorrowland Speedway our last ride of the trip, while my mom went to the Carousel of Progress, which I've still never been on.

We stopped at Cosmic Ray's, which is a diner, for some horribly unhealthy food (they got burgers, I got a chili cheese hot dog), and set out for home, satisfied that we had a great trip, but a little sad that we'd be flying home the next day. We took a few pictures with a view of Cinderella's castle that came out pretty well, and would be a good Facebook album cover if I ever get around to posting these pictures on Facebook...don't count on it, though.




The next morning was fairly uneventful. We rode Disney's Magical Express back to the airport, and encountered no difficulties at security (it was stunningly fast, actually). We took off from Orlando where it was 78, and landed at Dulles International Airport, where it was 28 degrees and snowing. Welcome home, vacationers. And that was the trip. I'm already organizing our next trip in my mind. More time at the Magic Kingdom seems to be a no-brainer. Oh, and we've got to go back to the Yak & Yeti restaurant at Animal Kingdom! And I'd like to try out Soarin', and eat in Norway, and...



Ride Reviews

Haunted Mansion (4/5) - The ride itself is more like a 3 star ride, but my mom is such a little kid when it comes to Halloween and ghosts that going on the ride with her was a lot of fun. It's a slow-moving ride through, well, a haunted mansion. There are ghosts and ghoulies at every turn, and I could see little kids either having fun or being terrified...both of which could make the ride more enjoyable.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (5/5) - This is one of the most fun rides in any park if you've got the right group on it. The Pooh theme is one that most people know, and the characters are a little more interesting than those in Peter Pan or Pirates of the Caribbean. Probably the best part of the attraction, though, is how your ride changes in each section. You hop-hop-hop along with Tigger, you float down the river, it adds to the environmental feel of the ride, rather than the unchanging rides of the aforementioned.

Tomorrowland Transit Authority (5/5) - The difference between this ride at night and during the day is like...well, it's like the difference between night and day. The outdoor parts of the ride are the same, but the indoor parts are just great at night. There are shooting stars, and you get to see Space Mountain much better than during the day. It's the same fun ride with noticeably better scenery.

Tomorrowland Speedway (2/5) - I didn't give it a 1 star rating because it was a little fun, but it was generally a bust. The line was among the longest at Magic Kingdom, but I have trouble figuring out why. You drive your car on a track, but you're limited to your lane, which means you don't get to really race anyone, which is good, because your car goes pretty slow. Probably the best part was the trash talk that Kevin and I threw at each other beforehand, even though it was obvious we weren't going to be able to race. Probably would not ride this one again, especially if the line is as long as usual.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Five Thousand Points!

Last night, after cleaning out the last of the Vice Kings in Saints Row, I earned enough achievement points to surpass five thousand, a milestone I've had my eye on for a while now. Is it meaningless? You'd better believe it's meaningless. And yet, I'm still delighted to have gotten there. I've got a long way to go before I can catch up to Patrick (who at last check was at 14,875 and keeps racking up achievements), but I'm headed in the right direction.

Our next target? Marcus, at 6,920 points. I'm comin' for ya!

A Revelation Inside A Revelation

As I'm sure everyone under the sun has heard by now, Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroid usage back in 2003, under the anonymous testing procedures Major League Baseball put in place to decide whether or not steroid usage was widespread enough to merit a large scale testing process (more on this later). Today, he gave an interview with Peter Gammons, explaining the extent of his use and offering the standard baloney about being young and naive, needing to be more conscious of what he was putting in his body, talking to kids about his mistakes, etc etc. He doesn't go into the details of how much he used of any particular drug, nor does he specifically name anything he used. It's fairly similar to the apology issued by Jason Giambi in 2005, where he apologized, but didn't say what he was apologizing for.

What's the relevance of this? Well, I've read through some commentaries on assorted blogs and websites, and I've got two things I want to discuss (and would like to hear other people discuss):
  1. How does this revelation affect the steroid era players who've been tagged as steroid users and their fate with regards to the Hall of Fame? I've never been all that concerned with the "purity of the game" that so many commentators cite as their reasons for not casting a vote for Mark McGwire, which will presumably be similar to the votes they'll cast (or not cast) for Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and other suspected or proven steroid users. But that's the argument that many BBWAA voters provide when asked why they wouldn't vote for McGwire. Does Rodriguez's admission mean that McGwire might be looked upon in a more favorable light? And, even if not...
  2. ...why isn't the bigger part of this story the fact that 104 baseball players tested positive in 2003? I don't think all major leaguers were tested, but even if they were, 104 players constitutes 13.8% of active players (30 teams, 25 active players per team). And that's only the players who were too stupid to stop using steroids when baseball announced they'd be testing that year. People say that A-Rod, and any other steroids users, got an unfair advantage over their opponents through it, but when 14% of your opponents (and probably a lot more) are also using steroids, any arguments about fairness go out the goddamn window.
I'm not going to come down on A-Rod, because I've never come down on anyone for using steroids in the pre-suspension era in baseball. You can't get mad at someone in a system for acting within the constraints of the system without looking foolish, and A-Rod, McGwire, Bonds, and everyone else worked within the system. The system had no penalty for using steroids, so why should we suddenly hold the players accountable?

My cousin Nick made the analogy for A-Rod that any punishment from baseball, current or future, is like getting pulled over and given a warning, then five years later getting issued a speeding ticket. To me, both situations sound equally ridiculous, and I'll vehemently argue any opposition to Rodriguez's eventual Hall of Fame candidacy.

Walt Disney World Trip: Day 4, Part 1 (Monday AM)

We took a few minutes Monday morning to briefly decide where we were going to go before going to the Magic Kingdom in the evening (the Magic Kingdom was the beneficiary of Extra Magic Hours that evening, and I've found that it feels right to end a Disney World trip at the Magic Kingdom). After a short discussion, we all decided that we hadn't really seen any of Epcot in our previous trip, so we'd head over there for a few rides and lunch.

Epcot doesn't have a ton of great rides, as its main attraction is the World Showcase. And because the World Showcase brings a lot of traffic with only a few rides, most of the rides have fairly long queues. Because of this, we didn't end up going on Soarin', probably the most popular ride at Epcot. Instead, we headed for Test Track, which had been recommended to Kevin by one of his friends (and which made me think that it was going to be pretty hazardous). I did survive, but I selected a gentle ride as a follow-up, Living with the Land, which sported a five-minute wait. I assumed it would be a lecture about taking care of the environment, but it was a boat ride, so I was willing to take the chance.

For lunch, we decided to go to the U.K.'s sit-down restaurant, the Rose & Crown Pub and Dining Room. I wasn't crazy about a lot of the stuff on the menu, but the burger I got was pretty good, and I had some of my mom's fish and chips, also pretty good. Additionally, I got a beer sampler which had Guinness, Harp, Boddington, and a couple others I don't remember. They were all okay, but I've found that I'm more of a sweet drink kind of guy. The bitterness of the average beer just doesn't sit that well with me. Still, it was a fun experience and a good meal.

We finished lunch around 1:30, and it was time for us to head back to the hotel. My mom wanted to take advantage of the fact that Saratoga Springs is a spa, so she set an appointment for her first ever massage at 3:00 PM. Kevin and I were up for a break after a very filling lunch, so we all headed back and got ready for our final park visit of the trip: the Magic Kingdom.

Stay tuned.

Ride Reviews

Test Track (4/5) - The introduction video was pretty funny (and starred John Michael Higgins), and the ride itself was sort of as expected. It was a little bit chaotic, and boasts the fastest speed of any ride at Walt Disney World. It gives you a better appreciation of how fast you're going when you drive 65 miles per hour. It was Kevin's favorite ride of the trip.

Living with the Land (3/5) - I was pretty surprised that this was as enjoyable as it was. We checked out a movie called "Circle of Life" when we came last year, and it was basically a lecture on taking care of the Earth. This ride started out that way, with pictures from around the world of how people were working to be more efficient and conserve resources, and I was a little suspect of the rest of the ride. But it ended up kind of cool. You pass through a fish farm (all you eco-freaks can shove it, breeding fish to be eaten is no different from breeding corn to be eaten) and a horticulture lab (with a Mickey-shaped pumpkin). The whole ride is on a boat, which I believe I've mentioned I enjoy. On a warm day, it was a nice, cool, soothing ride.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Are the Cleveland Cavaliers Too Focused On Winning At Home?

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been very good at home this year, so good, in fact, that some would even say perfect. Actually that person would be me. The Cavs have used a 23-0 record at Quicken Loans arena to propel them to the top of the Eastern Conference and they have done it in an impressive way. The win streak has been accented with blowout victories over legitimate NBA Championship contenders like Boston, New Orleans and Denver and has established "the Q" as one of the toughest places to play in the NBA. But while winning every time out has endeared the Cavs to the Cleveland faithful and intimidated future opponents, it may hurt them in the long run.

Ok, Ok, my argument isn't that the Cavs need to lose games to become a better team, because that doesn't make sense. They do need to become a more consistent team though. While Cleveland has been incredible at home, their performance on the road has suffered lately. The 39-9 Cavs have only been able to go 7-5 in their last twelve road games, including being run out of the gym by the Magic, Lakers and Bulls.

In each of the 5 recent losses the Cavs have scored 16 or fewer points in at least one quarter. They also did not shoot better than 46.5% in any of these games, despite a robust 48.9% field goal percentage on their home floor this season. Both of these stats point to prolonged mental lapses during road games that are resulting in losses. It's not much of a stretch to say that because the Cavs are so focused on keeping their home winning streak going that they are less prepared or intense for road games.

So here's the point. Cleveland can't afford to be giving away road games. They are in a dogfight with the returning NBA champion Boston Celtics for home court advantage in the East (the same Celtics team the Cavs lost a game 7 to in Boston last year). It would be much better for Lebron and company to drop a home game and play much more consistently on the road than it would be for the Cavs to go 42-0 at the Q (not to mention they aren't going to do it anyway).

Walt Disney World Trip: Day 3, Part 2 (Sunday PM)

At the hotel, we relaxed for a bit (I spoke to my cousin Mike briefly on the phone), and we geared up for Hollywood Studios. After all of the hype that Plundo built for Toy Story Mania, I was looking forward to a pretty fun evening, and for the most part, I wasn't disappointed.

When we arrived, we checked out the big board that has all of the rides' wait times, and saw that Toy Story was an hour wait with the Fast Passes depleted for the day, so we opted instead for Star Tours, which was a 5 minute wait. The alleged 5 minute wait might have been all of 2 minutes, and we quickly and happily rode one of our favorites from last year. After that, we hit up another favorite of ours in Muppet Vision 3-D (again with no wait), before deciding to try out the line at Toy Story. It was listed as a forty minute wait, and even though it would be the longest wait of the trip, the line didn't seem to be getting shorter, so we hopped into the queue.

(It bears mentioning here that the camera batteries ran out at this point, which is why there aren't more pictures of Hollywood Studios).

After enjoying Toy Story, we contemplated getting in line again, but the wait time was back up to an hour, despite being after 7:00 PM, and thus into Disney's "Extra Magic Hours" (the last and perhaps greatest advantage of staying in a Disney resort). So, we headed for Rock n' Roller Coaster, one of Kevin's favorite rides. I didn't end up going on the ride (I'm wary of how my girth is handled by coaster seating systems), but Kevin had virtually no wait, and enjoyed it. Choosing instead to embrace my heft, I grabbed a Flavor Blast ice cream cone, which is soft serve vanilla ice cream with some sort of syrup lining. I had a banana split flavored cone, and it was tasty.

We looked around for a few places to get dinner in Hollywood Studios, but by this time, most sit down restaurants were closed, and the ones that were open were diners, which are okay, but not worth waiting in line for. So we headed back to the hotel and ordered pizza and breadsticks from Disney World's delivery service. The pizza was surprisingly excellent, I'd say better than Papa John's or Pizza Hut (though still miles behind Zio's). I curled up with Moneyball and finished it, and went to bed, looking forward to another day full of rides on Monday.

Ride Reviews

Star Tours (4/5) - The ride is pretty fun, but the best part is all the little Star Wars lines and characters and such. I'm a sucker for Star Wars. There's also an AT-AT outside the ride that makes laser blast noises at night, and a whole themed area around the ride. They have a life-sized replica of the Ewok village toy that I have about six of in my basement, but unfortunately, it's not designed as something you can go into. Hopefully they'll consider adding that...or creating an entire Star Wars theme park...man, I would go to that.

Muppet Vision 3-D (3/5) - As Plundo said, the best part of this show is the two old cranks who make fun of the show. "Hey, how did you get such good seats?" "There was a contest. I lost!" I feel like I should go back and try to find some episodes of the Muppet Show, because I'm pretty sure I would appreciate the old guys more today than I did back then.

Toy Story Mania (5/5) - It wasn't my favorite ride of the trip, but it was a damn fun ride. Like I said when I talked about Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, I do like the mission concept a little better than just the general shooting gallery style of Toy Story Mania. But there's no questioning that the technology is superior here, and while it was essentially a video game in a ride car, I like video games, so it was a blast.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Top 5 Most Lopsided Deals In Our Keeper League

There has been a lot of talk over the past couple of years about some of the lopsided deals that have happened in our baseball keeper league (for those of you not in the league, you can click here and have a look at most of our history). But which deals actually ended up being the most lopsided?

Well, I'll take a crack at it. I won't be including any deals from the 2008 season, because we don't really know what to make of those deals just yet. Besides, I've found that as time has gone on, the deals have gotten substantially more reasonable.

Here we go:
  1. Mercer AutoWreckers trade Hanley Ramirez and Jeff Francoeur to Stewies SexyParties for Freddie Sanchez and Jeremy Hermida, July 2006 - At the time, I really didn't think this was that terrible a trade. Hanley was a speedy rookie who was playing pretty well, but Sanchez was leading the NL in batting average (and did end up winning the batting title). Obviously, though, Hanley has become arguably the most valuable player in fantasy baseball, and neither Sanchez nor Hermida are fantasy starters.
  2. The Usual Suspects trade Juan Uribe, Danny Bautista, and their 2005 11th round pick to ________ for Lance Berkman and their 2005 13th round pick, May, 2004 - Yes, unfortunately, the top two lopsided trades in our history were both at the expense of the AutoWreckers (formerly named "_______"). Bautista is out of baseball, and Uribe's career has slipped every year since 2004. Meanwhile, Berkman, while inconsistent, has been a keeper every year since. Chip was able to trade two guys who will be taken in the first two rounds this year and still finish ahead of me last season. Ouch.
  3. Cleveland Enforcers trade John Lackey and their 2007 4th round pick to Those Guys for Andruw Jones, February 2007 - While Lackey has blossomed into a star pitcher, the real reason this trade is on this list is because of how colossally bad Andruw Jones has been. Colossally, inexplicably bad.
  4. Riders of Rohan trade their 2006 5th round pick to Big Bounty Blokes for Zach Duke and their 2006 14th round pick, February 2006 - A bit of a mistake for the Riders, Zach Duke ended up doing substantial damage to my ERA and WHIP. I probably should've known better, but I wanted to get on the train and pick up one of these young stud pitchers that everyone seemed to have. Now, all I want is six Greg Maddux's on my team.
  5. Cleveland Enforcers trade Eric Gagne and Jim Edmonds to The Usual Suspects for Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera, July 2004 - While the value difference on this trade is fairly substantial, I pushed it down to #5 because the Suspects had a plan, and the trade didn't kill the plan. They moved a couple of youngsters in an attempt to get the premier closer in baseball at the time and make a run at the title. While they fell just a half a point short, certainly Gagne's 22 second-half saves didn't hurt the Suspects' title run.
Think I'm wrong? Comment to your heart's content.

Walt Disney World Trip: Day 3, Part 1 (Sunday AM)

We woke up a lot earlier on Sunday than we had on Saturday. The early start was mostly my doing, since I wanted to make sure we had enough time to spend at Animal Kingdom (which closes at 5:00). I had gone there last year early with Eddie, and while we saw a couple of things, there were definitely some things on the park map that I would've liked to have caught but we didn't have time for. I had some Frosted Flakes for breakfast, and we were ready to hit the park by 9:30 AM.

When we arrived, we weren't really sure where we wanted to go, so we defaulted to my favorite ride last year, DINOSAUR. We briefly debated getting Fast Passes, but the twenty minute wait seemed reasonable enough. Then, it turned out it was more like a five minute wait when we actually got in line, so Fast Passing it would've felt foolish. Next on our to-do list was the Kali River Rapids. Kevin and I were both eager to do this one, but the warnings of getting wet were enough to make my mom shy away from it. The line wasn't too long (a legit 15 minutes), so we waited in line and my mom watched from the concourse (a picture of us on the ride is down with the ride reviews).

Kevin hadn't eaten anything all day, and as usual, I could eat, so we went to get an early lunch at the Yak & Yeti, a "pan-Asian" restaurant that is as advertised. It's got Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, and Thai cuisine. My mom ordered the crispy honey chicken, Kevin got the baby back ribs, and I got the tempura shrimp. Additionally, we shared an order of pot stickers and an order of wok-fried green beans. Everything was AWESOME. Without hesitation, this was the best meal we had all trip. Every dish was flavorful, different, and delicious. We ended up sharing pretty much everything, and amazingly, everyone liked everything. Animal Kingdom isn't amazing when it comes to rides and such, but this restaurant might push it over the edge as a park I'd recommend.

After our fantastic meal, we grabbed Fast Passes for the Kilimanjaro Safari to ride it in about an hour, and walked around looking for ways to kill time. This first manifested itself in a couple of photo opportunities:



When I went to Animal Kingdom last year, I went on the Maharajah Jungle Trek. It's basically just a path through a zoo, but it's much smaller than a normal zoo, and only has animals from India and southeast Asia. It was interesting the first time, so Kevin and I set out for that. Meanwhile, my mom watched a show called Flights of Wonder, featuring exotic birds. She said it was cute, a little cheesy, but enjoyable. We then headed off to our safari, our last ride of the day at Animal Kingdom.

At about 2:30, we had done most of the stuff at Animal Kingdom we wanted to do, and since it was a warm day and we'd done a lot of walking, we decided to head back to the resort. We were planning on hitting up Hollywood Studios later as well, so we didn't want to exhaust ourselves at Animal Kingdom.

The day continues in Day 3, Part 2, which will be posted this evening.

Ride Reviews

Dinosaur (4/5) - Would've gotten a 5/5 last year, but the surprise factor is pretty important when it comes to the thrill rides. Also, last year I was in the front row, which is a little more scary when those giant dinosaur jaws are coming at you. Still, very fun.

Kali River Rapids (4/5) - The four stars say a lot about how much fun this ride is at its best, because generally it's very tame. You ride around at a slow pace, go up a few lift hills, have a few decent drops, and one great one. And you get very, very wet. The warning signs they have are appropriate: "You will get wet. You may get SOAKED."





Maharajah Jungle Trek (3/5)
- It's really more of a two star attraction, but while we were watching the tigers, one of them stood up and sauntered over to the glass. The beast was maybe three feet away. That was a thrill. Pictures from the trek below (mostly of tigers...they're awesome):

















Kilimanjaro Safari (2/5) - One of the more disappointing rides. The safari vehicles you take are so rigid, and the path you take is so bumpy, that most of the time I couldn't get good pictures because I was too worried that I'd lose the camera. The Jungle Trek was better because you got to see a few animals really close. The Safari was mostly viewing from a distance, which I get is safer when there's no glass wall, but makes for a less impressive experience. Here are the pictures that didn't suck too much:



Walt Disney World Trip: Day 2 (Saturday)

(With regards to rides, I'm going to use the same strategy that Plundo did, waiting until the end of the post to rate the rides, and using a 5-star system).

Friday night was nice, but the reason you go to Disney World is to ride rides (or at least, that's the reason I go to Disney World). And when you want a lot of rides, there's no better place than the Magic Kingdom. Kevin slept until about 11:00, so we didn't start our day until around 11:30.

The sit-down restaurant at Sarasota Springs is called the Turf Club Bar & Grill. I had a good burger (not a Goodburger), and Kevin and my mom both got the yellowfin tuna per our waiter's recommendation. They seemed to enjoy it, and I enjoyed mine, so we started our day's activities on the right foot. We hopped on a bus to the park and arrived in ten minutes or so.





When we arrived, we realized that there was a parade scheduled to come through the park shortly, and we weren't really looking to watch it, so we hopped on the Walt Disney World Railroad, which carries passengers to a couple stops around the park. We got off at Frontierland, and picked up Fast Passes for Splash Mountain. If you're unfamiliar, a Fast Pass is essentially an appointment for the ride. You can pick it up at any time during the day (only one at a time, though), and you'll be given a window later in the day during which you can redeem the pass and ride with virtually no line. It's a nice feature, taking some of the waiting time out of your theme park visit.

Armed with Fast Passes for Splash Mountain in 2 hours, we decided to check out a couple other rides. We hit the Mad Tea Party, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. We stopped off for ice cream and headed back to ride Splash Mountain (which I hadn't ridden in our trip last year, so it was a new and exciting experience).

Sufficiently happy (and a little soaked), we basically wandered the park for the rest of the day, hopping on whatever struck our fancy: Pirates of the Carribean, It's a Small World, and Peter Pan's Flight. Tired and pleased, we grabbed a bus back to our resort, and went back to the Turf Club for dinner. Our meals were good, but the real highlight was dessert. They cook some chocolate cake with chocolate from Madagascar, then top it with vanilla ice cream and some raspberry sauce. It was delicious.

Back to the room, I read more of Moneyball and got to bed early for Sunday, which would be our first "park-hopper" day.

Ride Reviews

Walt Disney World Railroad (2/5) - It's a railroad, fairly straightforward, and with surprisingly vanilla scenery. I only gave it two stars because it's functional, and it did what we wanted it to do, which was drive us to Frontierland.

Mad Tea Party (4/5) - It's not at all the kind of ride that you couldn't see at a standard amusement park, but it was a lot of fun. For those of you who've played Rollercoaster Tycoon, think Scrambled Eggs. There's a disc in the middle of each cup that you can spin manually to adjust your level of spinning; Kevin and I went pretty nuts with it.

Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (4/5) - Plundo was right about this being sort of an outdated version of the new Toy Story ride at Hollywood Studios, but the Space Ranger Spin has more of a story to your shooting, rather than the shooting gallery setup in the Toy Story ride. I like being on a mission, what can I say?

Tomorrowland Transit Authority (3/5) - It's a simple transportation ride (as its name would indicate), but for whatever reason, I like it. It's relaxing, it's never in direct sunlight, and it gives you a tour of Tomorrowland.

Splash Mountain (5/5)
- I loved the music and the atmosphere of the ride, and the drops are fun. This is my mom's favorite ride at the Magic Kingdom, and when we rode into "Brer Rabbit's Laughin' Place" at the end of the ride, they both laughed loudly and intentionally, which made the ride even more fun. It's also got comfortable seats, something that's particularly valuable for such a giant of a man as myself.

Pirates of the Carribean (3/5) - I like water rides, so Pirates gets a bump there, but really it's not a very exciting or interesting ride. It's essentially a slow river ride through a pirate town. They added a ship and a fort with some cannon fire, but in my opinion, not enough, and not enough explosions and damage on either side. I guess it's supposed to be a gentle ride and they have to maintain that, but I'd like a little more excitement. The Jack Sparrow singing at the end of the ride is pretty neat, though, and it gets the song in your head.

It's a Small World (2/5) - Another first-time ride for me, there was no line and I felt like I ought to do it at least once since it might be the most famous ride in Disney World. It was okay, not as good as some people have told me, but also not as bad as some other people have told me. It was another boat ride as well, so that was alright.

Peter Pan's Flight (2/5) - The line was 30 minutes, but my mom likes the ride, so we hopped in and waited. I remembered not liking the ride at all last year, so I wasn't expecting much, and the ride met expectations. I tried to like it more than last time, though, and that seemed to work, because last year I'd have given it a 1/5.

Next up: A split Sunday between Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios

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