The Optimist

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Good afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea! I am an Optimist, and you have fallen face-first into the most enlightening weekly feature this side of “C’mon, Man!” In other words, gird good and proper for another groundbreaking installment of News … Around … The … League.

In terms of what happened on this day in history, the answer is simple: Nothing.

It’s almost as if people throughout history took a half-Friday off on every September 30th. Because I’ve combed the archives. And I’ve unearthed bupkus.

Last week, we had it all: levitating Catholic saints, former U.S. presidents, Lingerie Football League players and golf superstars partying in their underpants. (Not all together. But still.)

On this Friday, the most significant historical event was the dedication of the Hoover Dam. The coolest birthday belongs to Fran Drescher. I even checked out my book of saints, and the best one I could find was Saint Gregory the Illuminator, whose father was killed after assassinating a king and whose grandson was torn apart by an angry mob. He, himself died – yawn. – of natural causes in 331 A.D.

Of course, the man who brought Christianity to Armenia won’t be happy about getting bumped. But better saints than Gregory the Illuminator have been relegated to N.A.T.L.’s cutting room floor. Plus, September 30 is International Blasphemy Day.

Besides, we’ve got a plethora of subjects to tackle heading into the weekend – including some baseball playoffs, a Browns prediction and an emotional Moment of Silence™ for a fellow prognosticator. And at some point during today’s column, you readers will get a rare glimpse at my ugly side. For that, I apologize in advance.

Today's stacked docket simply won’t allow us to delve into some of this week’s hard-hitting news stories, like the GOP Primaries, Michael Jackson’s doctor’s court case or the Georgia Tech students who caused over $100,000 in damage by stealing the letter ‘T’ off of everything on campus.

And fortunately for me and anyone else who suffers from acute selachophobia – the fear of sharks – we won’t have time to go in-depth on a story featuring a great white attack off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa.

In that attack, a 43-year-old man ignored posted warnings and went for his morning swim. Minutes later, a great white shark bit off one of his legs above the knee and the other leg just below the knee. The man, a Canadian accountant, is still in critical condition.

I am frequently teased by friends and co-workers about my fear of sharks. I can literally close my eyes and freak myself out in a swimming pool or bathtub. But unlike the “brave” hoser in Cape Town, I have both my legs – both above and below the knee. I simply can’t have any of my delicious parts bitten off.

Everyone knows that the only way to survive a great white shark attack is to jam an oxygen tank into the corner of its mouth and then shoot that tank with a rifle. And I seriously doubt that Stumpy had either of those tools with him during his fateful swim.

With that fish tale, we conclude the Public Service Announcement portion of today’s News … Around … The … League. I’d still love you readers if you had no appendages. But I’d like to see you keep as many as possible. Sharks have plenty to eat in the ocean – tuna, seals, Louisiana license plates, Canadian morons. They don’t need my readers’ limbs.

With that in mind, let’s take a bite out of this week’s current events, beginning with …

Baseball Been Berry, Berry Good To Me – Compared to Cavaliers basketball – not to mention pro and college football, boxing and women’s beach volleyball – baseball can be pretty boring.

But that was most definitely not the case on this past Wednesday night, quite possibly the most thrilling night of baseball in the history of America’s Pastime.

Within minutes of each other, fans witnessed historical rallies capped and historical collapses completed. One minute, it looked like the Red Sox would stave off elimination and the Rays’ run had ended. But Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria’s blast rattled the baseball world. In the National League, the Braves bullpen ran out of gas at the exact wrong time – allowing Tony LaRussa’s red-hot Cardinals to capture the wildcard spot.

And here is the part where things get ugly.

Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely complain – thus the nom de plume. But those same people know that one complaint that I have year after year is that the first round of Major League Baseball’s playoffs are a best-of-five series.

This is absolutely moronic! Teams play ONE-HUNDRED-AND-SIXTY-TWO games a season. They play from April to October – possibly from snowfall to snowfall. And yet, when baseball is at its best, the powers-that-be want to rush the first series through in five games, max.

Only eight teams qualify for the postseason in baseball – far less than in other sports. If a team works hard enough to reach the playoffs, it should be guaranteed two home games. In the best-of-five format, a team that loses Game 1 is screwed. Losing Game 2 means your team is screwed, blued and tattooed.

Complaining is ugly. But not as ugly as schadenfreude – which is defined as “malicious delight in the misfortune of others.”

But every time the Boston Red Sox take the pipe, like they did two nights ago in Baltimore, I can barely contain my joy.

I don’t like Boston fans. They’re beyond spoiled. The Celtics and Bruins have won recent titles, as have the Patriots and Red Sox. They wouldn’t know true sports heartbreak if it bit them in the heart. And yet you can bet that – led by my whiny arch-nemesis, Bill Simmons – they’ll figure out a way to claim that God hates them.

God doesn’t hate you, Sox fans. But I do. And I’m glad your team choked this year. I take malicious delight in your misfortune.

Pigskin Pick – OK. I feel somewhat bad about that last entry. I prefer to be positive.

I don’t have any ill-will towards the Tennessee Titans. The only negative mojo the Optimist column might have for them is the exclusion of quarterback Matt Hasselback from Professor Chewy’s coveted All-Bald Team on accounta his political affiliations.

But of course, having nothing personal against Matt Hasselback doesn’t mean I don’t want Jabaal Sheard to rip his freaking head off when the Browns and Titans face off this Sunday at the Stadium.

Tennessee comes to town with the league’s top defense, so we’ll see what the Browns offense is really made of. Browns trainers have been rubbing Vic’s Vapo-Rub™ on Peyton Hillis’ chest all week, trying to get him healthy for this Sunday’s showdown. If he can go, fans might finally see the H&H backfield at full strength.

Pat Shurmur’s men will need all hands on deck. Titans RB Chris Johnson hasn’t had a breakout game yet this year. Normally, I’d fear that he would have that game against my beloved Brownies. But I have full confidence in the current AFC Defensive Player of the Month, D’Qwell Jackson, and the rest of the Cleveland defense.

I’m calling for the Pumpkinheads to win an ugly one on the Lake – 19-16.

Silent, But Deadly – Over the past year, the celebrity animal kingdom has taken a beating. In the aforementioned Optimist Awards Banquet, the All-Dead Team was filled with cadaverous critters – including Knut, the world-famous German polar bear, Uga VIII, the Georgia bulldog, and Prince Chunk, the morbidly obese cat from New Jersey.

The loss which pained me most, however, was that of Paul the predicting Octopus – God rest his squishy little soul. Paul, as many of you know, correctly predicted the German soccer team's seven matches in the 2010 World Cup, including the final game.

Normally, I don’t have a soft spot for cephalopods. But any animal who, like me, is willing to endure the public scrutiny and ridicule that comes with predicting the future has my undying respect.

This week, we mourn the passing of Heidi, the cross-eyed opossum.

Heidi – who was abandoned in the States before being transferred to a zoo in Leipzig in eastern Germany – had three times more Facebook admirers than Chancellor Angela Merkel. This past February, Heidi correctly predicted the Best Actor and Best Actress winners at the Academy Awards.

Cross-eyed or not, Heidi wasn’t cute – because no opossums are. But there are possums with perfect vision who achieve very little besides hanging from their tail or getting run over on I-71. Heidi turned her disability into a gift.

But after completely screwing up the 63rd Annual Emmy Awards this past month – (calling for Hugh Laurie over Kyle Chandler and Mariska Hargitay over Julianna Marguiles) – zoo officials decided to put the old girl down at the age of 3.

Here’s to you, Heidi. You’re probably running into walls up in Possum Heaven right now. While you get your bearings, I’m going to ask my readers to closeth their cakeholes and removeth their hats and/or hairpieces while we pause for this well-earned Moment of Silence™

Thank you.

I know today’s News … Around … The … League was a bit meandering. But without the compass that is Cavaliers basketball, I find myself drifting aimlessly through life.

Let’s hope the two sides can reach a reconciliation soon. Otherwise, it’s more shark attacks, baseball news and cross-eyed opossums for the next few foreseeable Fridays. And I don’t know if either one of us want that.

Here endeth the lesson, knuckaheads. Have yourselves a merry little weekend. And please remember to …

Keep the faith, Cleveland

Your pal,
The Optimist