Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jim Breuer: Sports and Comedy Intersect for Long Island's Stand-Up Guy

Everyone knows that even the most talented athlete has put in long hours of practice and developed a mental toughness second to none. To prepare for competition, athletes spend exorbitant amounts of time on the practice field or in the weight room, just as their coaches do in the film room, looking for clues on how to perfect their offense or counter a defensive scheme. No matter how much talent a professional coach has on his roster or a player has in his God-given gene pool, there’s nothing that compares to preparation through practice, even if the ticket-buying public thinks they can just roll out the balls and play.

Now picture the life of a stand-up comic.

Jim Breuer special airs on EPIX May 29th
“Some people think what I do is … ‘Oh, yeah, just show up and be funny,’” said comedian Jim Breuer, one of Comedy Central’s 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All-Time, as he approached the May 29th debut of his “Comic Frenzy” one-hour special on EPIX (check local listings). “Comedy is on my mind 24/7,” he noted when asked of the comparisons between a stand-up comic and a pro ballplayer. “I’m always thinking, always creating and always developing in my head, and I need to a couple months ahead.

“I have this new special coming out now (on EPIX), but I’m plotting and planning for the future and trying to be ahead of the game,” continued Breuer, a Long Island native and ardent New York Mets fan. “You’re a writer, and you have to come up with new material to keep your audience. You want your new stuff to be even funnier. Otherwise, you’re dead. You’re dead in the water.

“It’s just like sports, really. Great, you hit the game-winning home run yesterday but today, you if blew the game with an error on what could’ve been an easy, game-ending double-play? Or, forget it if you’re a pitcher and you just got shelled in today’s game.”

So what’s is like to get shelled as a comedian?

“Thank God, at the stage I’m at now, (I know) I’ll rebound from this. And if I ever get that shelling, it might be from a private, bizarre gig that I probably shouldn’t be doing in the first place, like a small private party with eight people attending in somebody’s living room.”

Popular comedian Jim Breuer doesn’t have to worry about that scary scenario any more. After some 20 years in the business, he can command a stand-up comedy stage much like his favorite New York Mets pitcher, Dwight Gooden, commanded the mound in 1986. 

“Dwight Gooden was one of the best pitchers I’ve ever seen in my life,” recalled Breuer, who attended many games at Shea Stadium from 1984 to the Mets’ world championship season of 1986.  That’s when Gooden was enjoying a span of about 50 starts when he went 37-5 with a 1.38 ERA and 412 strikeouts in 406 innings pitched.

“It was an EVENT! He’d show up, he sold out, and people came out just to watch him pitch. He was invincible, mowing people down. It was like watching a Mike Tyson fight (in his early days).”

While it’s fun to watch a game on TV, there’s nothing like attending the event in person. Breuer feels that live comedy supplies that same experience.

“What describes me best (and what portrays him at his best), is when you come see me live. Stand-up comedy is the best “a-game” that I put out there,” said Breuer, after being prompted for insight. “And the reason I feel this show is so good is that I did it 100 percent my way. I filmed it where I wanted to film it - on Long Island, in front of some of my hometown people. I hired the director I wanted to direct, and this is my personal project. I’m very excited about it.

“If someone wonders what I’m like, live, this (EPIX special) is a really great description.”

It’s a rare comedic star who becomes an overnight sensation.  The more typical path to stardom is similar to the long road an athlete must travel, where hard work, perseverance and dedication to the craft are what make a star a star.

“It comes with experience and it comes with confidence, especially confidence,” Breuer paused to emphasize. “It comes with a drive and determination.

“I went out there in 2008, and here we are, seven years later, and it’s my third or fourth special.  But technically I started my career in 1989, so I’ve been around a while, working TV. When you finally find your voice and how you want to use it? It took me quite a while to find that. I was always a huge comedy fan, and I watched it since I was little,” he said, remembering watching Johnny Carson as a youngster, as well as the likes of Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello on Sunday mornings. 

“I loved it all. George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Buddy Hackett and Don Rickles. I can remember Laugh In and Sonny & Cher. But Eddie Murphy? I went to see him at the Westbury Music Fair when I was about 17 or 18 years old and to see someone that young (Murphy was only 23 at the time), I could just taste it. He was the super-inspiration for me.”

The thrill of making people laugh the way Eddie Murphy could was the attraction to Breuer and drew him to a profession that, like professional sports, provides valuable entertainment value to the average fan.

“Music - Comedy - Sports, they all have healing power,” said Breuer. "They can heal a major part of you. They can be healers of pain or healers of (bad) memories. But they can create great memories…I think that’s why everyone relates to them.

"Sports, music and comedy, everyone needs them."

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Daily Payoff: TL Column

(This column appeared as a weekly series of writings on all subjects which intersect with the world of Fantasy Sports, Horse Racing, Casino gaming and other worldly activities)

The CrossRoads of Fantasy Sports Meeting Gaming

By TERRY LYONS, Contributing Columnist
@terrylyons @The Daily Payoff

The intersection of sports gambling and fantasy sports has been a key crossroad of the American sports scene long before the daily fantasy providers were sinking millions into a constant stream of radio and television ads. While betting on the outcome of games, usually on a money line, might’ve put former Cincinnati Reds great Pete Rose in a predicament, the average baseball fan has long enjoyed the thrill of predicting the future.  Whether handicapping the pitching duel or wagering ridiculously on the very next pitch being a ball or strike, the experience has captivated the fans.

Fantasy at the Ballpark, is an American tradition - we just don;t want to admit it. (Photo by T. Peter Lyons/DigSportsDesk)
As the current climate continues to change, quicker than the ice melts in Antartica, the leading sports executives are recognizing the change and see the business opportunity on the horizon. But they would only have to look back to the summers of ’74 and ’75  in Queens County, New York to have seen the future.

While the New York Yankees and New York Mets were each playing mediocre baseball, teetering around .500, fans at Shea Stadium were treated to games nearly every night as the Yankees were relocated across the East River when The City of New York renovated Yankee Stadium for two full seasons. While the Mets’ roster featured Cy Young award winner Tom Seaver who went 22-9 in ’75 when his club finished 82-80 and 10 games back of the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Yanks’ roster included the core of eventual ’77 and ’78 World Series championship teams, the opportunity for a baseball fan that summer was simply the ease of getting great seats at prices that were next to nothing, especially for the displaced Bronx Bombers.

It was the perfect summer for high school buddies to head out to Shea, grab box seats for $5 apiece and play a game we simply called, “Pass the Hat.” We knew it was probably illegal but a harmless form of wagering.

Little did we know, it was an early form of fantasy baseball that kept us fully engaged each and every at bat. The rules were simple. The game worked best when you had at least four participants, great when you had six or eight. To start, someone would take off their baseball cap and everybody would “ante up” a buck by tossing it into the cap. Batter up and the person holding the hat was eligible to collect the loot if a player got a hit when you were holding it. If the batter made out, you were obligated to toss in another $1 buck and pass the hat to your buddy seated next to you. If a player walked, you passed the hat free of charge, so, in our game, a walk was not as good as a hit. One caveat was the luck of holding the hat when a home run was hit. In that case, not only did you collect the money in the hat, but everyone participating was required to toss another dollar at the lucky winner, and then ante up again before the next batter.

As the years went by, we entertained ourselves with some other variations of our game, including an end-of-inning wonderkind called, “Grass-Mound-or-Other,” which required you to guess where the ball would end up after an inning ending out. After the final out, say a fly ball to left field, we eagerly watched the left fielder jogging towards his dugout to see if he would roll the ball to the pitchers mound and whether it would rest on the dirt hill (3-1 odds) or just off the edge and on the infield grass (even money). If the ball were tossed to a fan in the stands or carried into the dugout, all bets were off unless you had previously designated “other” which would get even money. There were many a times we had to stand on our infield box seats to get the proper angle on a ball tossed over the mound and nearly out-of-sight. It was glorious way to pass the time and highly intriguing, with the proof always shown through the fact neighboring fans would want to “get into” the game.

Surely there are hundreds of other New Yorkers with similar stories and different variations of the games they played at the ball field, and tons of examples of how soccer fans at Arsenal or dozens of other European Premier League clubs can wager on the first goal, the next goal or some other occurrence whether it involved the outcome of the game or just the next statistical transaction.

To date in the North American sports world, no league or venue has been permitted to get into the action because of federal laws. The recent influx of daily fantasy sports (DFS) is the first hint of gaming activity on an “official” basis, as Major League Baseball, via its digital media arm, MLB Advanced Media, has partnered with Draft Kings on an official sponsorship package.

That package consists mostly of touting their “experiential” offerings for tickets and other game enhancements or hospitality and trips.

The NBA partnered with Fan Duel, taking an equity position. However, the DFS offerings, to date, have only been salary cap-style games. The site infrastructures of either Fan Duel or Draft Kings have not been altered to allow in-game adjustments to line-ups or other such variations, such as predicting fantasy stats in an “At Bat” or single inning.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has boldly stated his viewpoint to potentially legalize sports gambling and take it away from the off-shore web sites or back-room bookies and into the open. His counterparts in charge of other major sports leagues have not been so forthcoming, especially the NFL and MLB which both seem to be burying their heads in the sand while Silver steps up, communicating transparently by way of his breath-of-fresh-air op-ed piece written in The New York Times last November 13th.

Wrote Silver in the NYT, “Betting on professional sports is currently illegal in most of the United States outside of Nevada. I believe we need a different approach,” noting the massive amounts of money wagered through “illicit bookmaking operations” or “shady offshore websites,” as he noted the popularity of sports gambling in the international world that is so much a part of the NBA’s global business plans.

In closing, Silver wrote under his by-line, “I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated.” But what wasn’t a major statement in Silver’s op-ed or yet recognized by the powers-that-be in any of the North American major sports, is the fact more lenient federal and state laws on gaming and fantasy sports will bring about more engagement with the fans.

"It can keep people much more engaged at so many different points in a game,” said Joe Favorito, the Director of Industry Relations and a faculty member at Columbia University’s sports management program. “If a baseball game score is one-sided, you might stay for the entire game,” he said while noting the payoffs for “In-game” wagering/entertainment might be a coupon for a free hot dog in the eighth inning or a promotion to get more 20-somethings to attend a different game, later in the season.

So while the wager doesn’t have to be about money, the bottom line for a sports team, league or venue should now be to use newfound, hand-held “app-crazy” technology and obvious widespread acceptance of gaming, to offer-up another form of in-game entertainment and keep the fans happy. Traditionalists might scoff at the idea, but, quite frankly, they don’t have to play, just the way some sports fans go out to the races just to see the horses run or intelligent readers buy Playboy for the articles.

Personally, I’d like to see a much more transparent viewpoint come from the Park Avenue hallways of both Major League Baseball and the National Football League, as those two sports have the most to gain. But, until then, I’ll head out to Yankee Stadium or the new Shea (they call it CitiField), with my old buddies, my baseball cap and $20 or $30 in singles.

Monday, May 11, 2015

DeflateGate: Is it time?

By TERRY LYONS, DigitalSportsDesk

(This was previously posted to my general sports columns and contributions on Huffington Post and Digital Sports Desk):

Some roads are paved by an overnight construction crew with a slab of blacktop. Some roads are paved brick-by-brick, by skilled workers who toil for hours on end to be sure each piece of stone is laid perfectly in unison with the next, all cemented in a pavement that will last for generations to come. Today, there is a new road being paved from Park Avenue in New York to Foxboro, Massachusetts. It might be cheap asphalt or it might be everlasting cobblestone. Only one thing is for sure, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is the foreman on the job.
Over the course of more than 100 days, the National Football League and the New England Patriots have been on far opposite ends of a legal tango trying to uncover the facts behind a relatively stupid aspect of league rules involving the proper amount of air in a game ball. While airing that controversy out, the NFL has cautiously detoured, carefully dictating the road that Brady will soon walk down.
This week the NFL, via a team of hired-gun lawyers and investigators, handed down a 243-page report, authored by an independent sleuth but powered by NFL league counsel Jeff Pash's checkbook. The Wells Report, camouflaged with legal mumbo jumbo, uncovered and delivered a "more probable than not" scenario to implicate two New England Patriots game-day employees for their role in tampering with game balls and deflating them to illegal levels of PSI (pounds per square inch) much to Brady's liking for an NFL playoff game contested on a cold, damp winter evening. The report also stated that Brady "was, at least, generally aware" of the incident. Although the Wells Report left "reasonable doubt" for a level of proof mandatory in a court of law, the investigation left little to the imagination in the all-important court of public opinion.
Tom Brady of the New England Patriots (Getty Images).
Why is this crazy incident and the Wells Report so important?

On one side of that document, the newfound Magna Carta for NFL integrity because of the fact the alleged perpetrators tampered with the GAME BALLS, is a model sports franchise, model owner and model quarterback with a (real) supermodel wife. The New England Patriots are not only the reigning Super Bowl champions for the NFL, the most powerful, profitable and influential sports league in word history, but they also represent the sport in nearly every fraction one can imagine.
On the other side of the document, the NFL is practically accusing its model citizens of cheating.
The team owner has been the foundation of that franchise, etched into the New England community for rescuing a football club that nearly moved down I95 to, god forbid, Hartford, Connecticut. But, more than that, Robert Kraft, along with a very small handful of other NFL team investors, is the face of NFL ownership with visions of man hugs dancing in our heads, even after contentious labor negotiating sessions when Kraft was portrayed as the savior of the NFL back when a labor stoppage threatened the 2011 season.
The team's head coach, Bill Belichick, has carved his own legacy in stone as he is certainly on the Mt. Rushmore of the NFL's greatest coaches ever, alongside Lombardi, Halas, Shula and Landry. Belichick out-smarts, out-prepares, or simply out-coaches his opponents on a scale unimaginable in the modern-day era of salary cap and free agency. His legacy, while secure, was tarnished severely back in 2007 when the NFL levied a $500,000 fine for an unfair videotaping incident known to all as "SpyGate." But, he surely endures.
The team's quarterback and leader, Brady, is amongst the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Period.
Off the field, Brady fast became the poster boy for what the NFL likes to portray as its typical All-Pro player. Brady's good looks, his storybook romances and media-friendly demeanor are fed to sports fans on a weekly basis every autumn. Most importantly, on the field of play, Brady has backed it up with his winning ways, complete with IV Super Bowl Wins and III Super Bowl MVPs. With it all, Brady has enjoyed endorsements, fame, glory, good fortune and extremely positive public relations throughout his career.
As the Patriots camp reacted to the Wells Report, the model team owner put out his statement, noting, "to say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC Championship game, would be a gross understatement." Then both Brady's agent and his father took similar positions to put up a smoke screen of plausible deniability, all using Nixonian-like phraseology, while failing to come out and plainly state -- "We didn't do it."
As fate would have it, Brady was booked at a Salem State University speaking series, where he had the nerve to helicopter in to sit alongside media maven Jim Gray for a show right out of Inside the Actor's Studio. On that set, Brady smugly glossed over the news of the day, claiming he hadn't had time to fully digest and read the account that will undoubtedly be attached to his lifelong resume, nevermind (potentially) negatively impact the 2015 New England Patriots season, depending on yet-to-be prescribed NFL discipline via fine or suspension.
Brady's continuous, ill-advised steps, from his initial press conference just days after the Deflategate controversy broke to his disingenuous remarks told at Salem State, place Brady in a precarious position, both in terms of fighting the NFL on the discipline and in the all-important court of public opinion.
While his actions can not be properly compared to the utter depths of sports malpractice, orchestrated somewhat recently by Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds or Lance Armstrong for cheating their sports and fellow competitors by constant denial of utilizing performance enhancing chemistry, the fall-out on Brady might be as impactful were it not for the mountain of goodwill he had previously built up.
Says sports media guru and former White House Director of Communications Kevin Sullivan: "While it's still unclear what exactly Brady's role was, he has too much personal goodwill in the bank and too much success on the field for this to seriously damage him. Deflategate will be part of his legacy, but more likely as a footnote than a headline."
With that in mind, it might be time for Brady, Belichick, Kraft and the New England Patriots to 'fess up. Even if they have ballboys Jim McNally and John Jastremski text it to us.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Previewing the 2015 Boston Marathon

A great advance look at the upcoming Boston Marathon from Runner's World editor-in-chief David Willey and CineSport's Noah Coslov:

Friday, April 10, 2015

TL's Column for The Daily Payoff

Augusta and Soccer, the Next Fantasy Frontiers

Posted by The Daily Payoff on Thursday, April 9, 2015