Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 
The playoffs begin tomorrow (probably today by the time you read this), and as we gather around our televisions to yell at hated rivals and cheer on the Penguins and our bandwagon Western Conference teams, there will be something missing, and it points to the former: hated rivals. Sure, the Capitals are in the playoffs, but the rivalry with them is more a creation of the media and serves as little more than a bragging point for Penguins fans, who have been able to witness Washington crumble at the feet of the Penguins on numerous occasions. The Rangers are in as well, though to say the Penguins have a "rivalry" with them would be to say that Ronald Reagan had a rivalry with Walter Mondale (this blog's favorite analogy for a landslide). The Rangers simply aren't enough of a thorn in our side to care about them. And the Islanders? Well, we'll get to them later.

So what's missing? Surely the Penguins can't have a big-time rival that didn't make the playoffs? Rangers are in, Capitals are in, Islanders are in, Red Wings are in, Ph.......

Wait a second. Is....Is.....
The Philadelphia Flyers will be watching the playoffs from their couches. Actually, Daniel Briere won't be watching on the couch, because his wife took the step ladder in the settlement.

Philadelphia's season began like a Guns N' Roses show, and ended the same way: disaster. The part of Axl Rose will be played by Ilya Bryzgalov, who left the "stage" (locker room) yesterday, telling the Philly media the Russian-accented equivalent of "Yinz can ALL suck it". The blame (or thanks) doesn't lay solely on the shoulders of the Cosmonaut, though. Just like the rest of Guns N' Roses, the Flyers used to be good enough to back up Bryz. But when Slash (Pronger) and Izzy (Jagr) left, the Flyers didn't have the offense to score, and the defense left Bryz out to dry like an old lady's bloomers on a clothesline.

Philly actually finished 7th in the conference with 133 goals for, but found themselves in 10th with 141 goals against. These numbers aren't terrible, but coming in 10th in the conference in goals against just ain't gonna cut it, Jack. Bryz finished 36th in GAA at 2.79, and 43rd in SV% at .900. Those stats couldn't get the '84 Oilers into the playoffs. The blame, again, isn't entirely on Brygalov. He was 12th in shots against. Looking at the other goaltenders in the top 12, only half of them are in the playoffs, and they were bailed out by solid offense, despite defensive failure, something the Flyers were unable to provide everyone's favorite HBO character.

I like Bryz, so I'm basically defending him. Plus, it's more fun to put the blame on all of the Flyers. Killing 20 birds with one stone.

But while we rejoice at their hilarious failure now, we know that just like Frosty the Snowman, they'll be back again someday. Hell, they might be back tomorrow, but only because they let Chris Pronger drive, and they got lost.

It should be mentioned that I'm not making fun of Pronger. Ok, I am. But I legitimately feel bad for the guy, and I put the line I wrote above to a vote. I didn't get any responses, so I just assumed that if I had, they would say "who cares, he can't read it anyways".

If I ever meet Chris Pronger, I will beg for his forgiveness and remind him that I'm just some punk kid hiding behind a computer. Then I will change my pants. I really do hope he recovers, because he doesn't deserve for his Hall of Fame Career to end the way it has. Those jokes were in worse taste than Scott Hartnell's ex wife (who Hartnell, himself, trashed on Twitter, so I'm not apologizing for that one).

To wrap up my semi-eulogy of the Flyers team that had a shorter shelf-life than "Gangnam Style", I would just like to say that I wish them nothing but failure and terrible draft picks until the sun explodes and we all burn to tiny bits.

The Eastern Conference was kind of like a bowl of day-old curry with whipped cream on top. I've already covered much of this in recent posts, but just to give a quick recap......*deep inhale* the Ottawa Senators suffered many injuries but kept themselves alive the Jets failed to make it the Panthers proved that last season was a fluke the Flyers sucked the Rangers weren't the monsters they were supposed to be the Bruins are worn out like tires on a Model T the Canadiens are in the midst of a collapse the Devils are old enough to actually be captained by Lucifer everybody else sucks and the Flyers sucked too.
 Now, call me a homer (I am), but guess what? The Penguins destroyed the competition in the East, and it wasn't close. While other teams sold off assets in endgame Monopoly-like fashion, the Penguins were more than happy to scoop up Park Place and Boardwalk, and landed Jarome Iginla from the Calgary Flames and Brenden Morrow from the Dallas Stars. They also acquired Douglas Murray from San Jose, and convinced Carolina to give them Jussi Jokinen while still paying a chunk of his salary. Jokinen has put up 11 points in 10 games in Pittsburgh. Not too shabby for a guy who was put on Waivers a month ago, huh?

They finished the season on top of the East, but none of that matters now, and none of it will ever serve as anything but a reminder of expectations that weren't met, should they fail to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. So now it's time for the team to put up or shut up. Ray Shero did his part. Now there are 20 or so guys who need to step up. And for our part as fans, I expect beards and hoarse voices until the final buzzer. I expect to lose half of my friends due to my insane behavior while watching these games, and I hope to not be able to start on rebuilding those friendships until late June.

 The Matchups: Eastern Conference

The 4-5 Matchup: #4 Boston Bruins (28-14-6) vs #5 Toronto Maple Leafs (26-17-5)
Regular Season Series: 3-1 Bruins

The battle begins again for two Original Six teams. Of course, we all know that the Original Six is a nonsensical marketing term the NHL came up with to sell more merchandise. The Original Six makes no mention of the original Senators, Toronto Hockey Club, or Montreal Wanderers. But for this series, you will be constantly reminded about the glory days of the Original Six teams, and you will have to shovel down mouthfuls of BS until you vomit up something that looks like a Flyers jersey.

Regardless, there is a series to be played. As is the case with any 4-5 matchup, I find it very difficult to pick a winner. The Bruins have experience on their side, winning the 2011 Stanley Cup with a similar roster to the one they have now. However, the Big Bad Broons looked tired in the final weeks of the regular season, including the final game against the Senators, where they looked lost at times, and Terry Schiavo-esque at others. I don't think that their offense will be able to bail them out, as they finished 14th in the league in goals for, many of which came in the beginning of the season, when they still had life. If they win, expect a lot of 1-goal victories.

The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, are the only team to not make the playoffs between lockouts. What an accomplishment. Sucking for a sustained period is no fun, and it cost Brian Burke his job. Know what else is no fun? Getting fired at the beginning of the season where the Leafs finally make the playoffs. Sorry, Burky.
"I told them Phil could do it..."
I don't trust the Leafs' goaltending, though Reimer has been excellent this season, considering the uncertainty the Leafs faced in the net a few months ago. Reimer is the clear-cut number one guy, but will he be able to stand up to the Bruins in the playoffs? We'll find out soon. I'm putting money on the Bruins' Chara being able to neutralize the scoring touch of Toronto's Phil Kessel, thus squashing a large part of the Toronto offense. The rest of the Bruins' defense will take care of the rest. Toronto could steal it, but I don't think it'll happen. Bruins move on.
Not this year, Toronto.

Prediction: Boston wins, 4-2

The 3-6 Matchup: #3 Washington Capitals (27-18-3) vs #6 New York Rangers (26-18-4)
Regular Season Series: 2-1 Rangers

The Capitals were so mud for most of the season that an Ethiopian wouldn't make a house out of them. Then, somehow, they started rolling. I don't know how it happened, and I won't give them credit, because they are a terrible hockey team. Their defense is terrible. Their goaltending is terrible. Their offense is terrible. But they have Ovechkin, who a friend once told me is "the sexiest man alive," and she wasn't kidding.
The Rangers also sucked more than they should have this season. I'd spend more time analyzing both teams, but to be honest, I don't care about either of them at all.

In the end, I firmly believe that the Rangers will defeat the Capitals. Ovechkin is on fire lately, but he's running into Henrik Lundqvist, who is usually lights out in the first round. I expect King Henrik to put up a stellar first round performance again, and shut down Ovechkin. With OV out of the picture, Backstrom is invisible, and Mike Ribiero won't pose enough of a threat to win a series on his own. Meanwhile, New York's Rick Nash will turn out to be a playoff warrior. Not good enough that they can win the Cup, but he'll be really good. He's built for this part of the season, and we'll finally get to see what he can do in the Spring. Washington's goaltending might have been good in the final stretch of the regular season, but like all Washington goaltenders before him, Braden Holtby will be picked apart like Mufasa's carcass on the Serengeti.

Prediction: New York wins, 4-3.

The 2-7 Matchup: #2 Montreal Canadiens (29-14-5) vs #7 Ottawa Senators (25-17-6)
Regular Season Series: 2-2 tie (2 wins, 1 loss, 1 overtime loss apiece)

The Ottawa Senators are a team fueled by hate. They hate you, they hate me, and they hate Matt Cooke. While this might be a fun thing to poke at in the regular season, it can motivate a team to do great things in the playoffs.
"Terrible....but great, Mr. Potter...."

However, will they be able to harness the hate that they used to propel them from the depths of defeat and into the playoffs, or will they let that hate get the best of them the way they did when the Penguins and Matt Cooke visited Ottawa a little over a week ago? One thing that is outside the realm of that potentially reckless energy is goaltender Craig Anderson. Winner of 2013's ugliest hockey player award, the extra from the 1972 film "Deliverance" suffered a big injury that kept him out for a lot of the season, but goaltender Robin Lehner stepped up and saved the day in a big way. However, Anderson is back in net, and a quick Google search of "Craig Anderson is ugly" returned nothing but headlines that read something along the lines of "Craig Anderson Steals Ugly Win for Senators". Expect that to continue.

The Canadiens started the season on fire, but have fizzled in recent weeks. PK Subban provides a threat on the back end, but the Canadiens do not have enough up front to win them this series, especially against Ottawa's goaltending. I wouldn't be shocked, again, if the Canadiens win it, but the Senators will turn out to be too much. Because of injuries, the Sens have been playing playoff hockey for over a month, and have gelled as a team because of it. They're ready, while the Canadiens don't have the energy they brought in February. Prepare for the 2013 Montreal riots.

I asked for a contribution, and this is what I got:
Credit to the superemely-talented James. P. Matsif, esq.

Prediction: Ottawa wins, 4-2.

The 1-8 Matchup: #1 Pittsburgh Penguins (36-12-0) vs #8 New York Islanders (24-17-7)
Regular Season Series: 4-1 Penguins

Basically, the Penguins make a habit of beating up on the New York Islanders. The speed the Islanders bring is no joke, but they won't be able to beat this Penguins team. It's as simple as that. Evgeni Nabakov is a tested playoff goaltender, and by that, I mean he has a D-average. He's a big part of the "Sharks can't win the cup" stigma that's surrounded San Jose for about a decade. The Islanders, if anything, are reminiscent of the 2007 Penguins team that lost to Ottawa in 5 games, though they lack a lot of what made that team a Stanley Cup finalist the next season.

The Islanders perpetrated the Ambush on the Isle a few seasons ago, something that lives on in the minds of Penguins fans, if not the team themselves. NHL teams have long memories, but I don't think the Penguins will give that night a second thought. Pittsburgh is here to do one thing, and that's win the Stanley Cup. The Islanders will be a nearly-forgotten footnote on their path, if they succeed in hoisting the Cup in June.

Prediction: Pittsburgh wins, 4-1.

As a quick recap of my predictions, I predicted the West as follows:
#5 Los Angeles over #4 St Louis, 4-2
#6 San Jose over #3 Vancouver, 4-3
#2 Anaheim over #7 Detroit, 4-2
#1 Chicago over #8 Minnesota, 4-0

And in the East,
#4 Boston over #5 Toronto, 4-2
#6 New York Rangers over #3 Washington, 4-3
#7 Ottawa over #2 Montreal, 4-2
#1 Pittsburgh over #8 New York Islanders, 4-1.

Of course, none of these predictions really mean anything, they're just food for thought. I hope you enjoyed reading all of this, but more importantly, I hope you enjoy the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While issues regarding money threatened to ruin a lot of what makes this sport the best in the world, the Playoffs remain intact, and will be as exciting as ever. Let's go Pens.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Actually, it was my Mom, and she was knocking on my bedroom door, to tell me that the NHL was a thing again. Also, it was around 5 in the morning, not midnight. I was dreary, though so Poe got that right. The dreariness faded instantly, as I said aloud, "regarding the lockout, we shall now speak nevermore". It is April 28th, and each team has played 48 games in this truncated season. By the way, the only time I ever heard "truncated" before this NHL season was in reference to a truncated rectum, which I assure you is not how I wish to think about this NHL season. So therefore, of truncated rectums we shall speak "nevermore". Quoth the Schuster.

 The name of the game this year is the asterisk. We've heard talk of the dreaded asterisk in Major League Baseball, where a bunch of fans, the government, sponsors, the league, and probably a few peanut vendors got up in arms, because their sport was significantly enhanced by steroids. Seriously, baseball was never more fun than when athletes who more closely resembled zoo animals than humans, both in appearance and in DNA structure, were hitting home runs like the bastard children of Clark Kent. The asterisk was to be put next to the names of these athletes, to denote the fact that their legendary feats of strength were aided by performance-enhancing drugs, in a half-assed effort to keep "integrity" alive.

The asterisk is alive again, this time in the NHL. In about a month and a half, fanbases of 29 teams will be clamoring for an asterisk to be affixed to the name of the 2013 Stanley Cup Champions. The win is tainted, they will say, because the team that won the Cup did so after little more than half of a regular season. It is inevitable. And it is false. The playoffs remain unsullied and whole. The road to the Stanley Cup is the same as it ever was. Win sixteen, achieve immortality. Lose four out of seven, get your golf clubs ready.

While the schedule is not yet out for the playoffs, we can assume that on Tuesday, the greatest tournament in professional sports will begin. 16 wins is what you need to win the Cup. A game every other day, with the speed turned up and the rules turned down. The best team might not win. If that was the case, hand the Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks. No, the team that wins will combine skill, which the Blackhawks, Penguins, and Ducks have in abundance, with brilliant coaching (see: Mike Babcock, Detroit) and the ruggedness necessary to stay healthy over a sustained playoff run. And a bit of luck.

Regular season records between teams do not matter. A team could go 4-0 against their first round opponent in the regular season, yet get swept in the playoffs by that same team. The reason is familiarity. When all is focused on crushing one opponent four times out of seven, a team learns everything about that opponent, and crafts a gameplan around minimizing their strengths and exploiting their weaknesses. It's more chess than brute force, and it will work every time. The team that wins will combine all of these attributes to hoist the Cup. Get in the fast lane, grandma, the bingo game is ready to roll.

Now let me tell you a thing or two...

The Matchups: Western Conference

The 4-5 Matchup: #4 St. Louis Blues (29-17-2) vs #5 Los Angeles Kings (27-16-5)
Regular Season series: 3-0 Kings
Dustin Penner's a nice fellow.

The Los Angeles Kings come into this series as the reigning Stanley Cup champions. Their regular season had its ups and downs, including a start that left some people wondering if they would succeed in even making the playoffs at all, let alone defend their championship. When the dust settled, the Kings finished in the 5th seed, staring the St. Louis Blues right in the face. The season series was a 3-0 sweep by the Kings, but if there is any series this year that could prove what I said above about regular season records being meaningless, this is the one. The Blues are built to be a tough, physical, and difficult team to play against in the playoffs. Bringing a lineup that boasts David Backes and TJ Oshie, the Blues have the physicality, along with the skill to put the puck in the net.

Still, I think that goaltending will play a decisive role in this matchup. The combination of Quick and Bernier for LA will outplay the tandem of Elliot and Halak in St. Louis, and send St Louis packing. If Jeff Carter can put the puck in the net for LA (he will) and Anze Kopitar can bring the game he brought last spring (he will), this one is an open and shut case. St. Louis will steal a game or two, but LA will move on.

Prediction: LA wins, 4-2.

The 3-6 Matchup: #3 Vancouver Canucks (26-15-7) vs #6 San Jose Sharks (26-16-7)
Regular Season Series: 3-0 Sharks

Uncertainty reigns supreme here. We saw that the Sharks were able to sweep the Canucks in the regular season, but which Sharks team will show up? The team that started the year on fire, or the team that couldn't put the puck in the net for 1/3 of the season? With Thornton, Marleau, and Logan Couture on the front end, the Sharks bring unquestionable talent, but especially in the case of Thornton and Marleau, do they bring the drive necessary to win a 7-game series against a perennial Western Conference powerhouse?

On the other side of the ice, the question is goaltending. The Sharks are backstopped by Antti Niemi, whose position is more solidified than Han Solo in carbonite. The Canucks, on the other hand, have been at the center of the hockey world this season, due to the goaltending controversy caused by their inability to find a suitable trade partner for Roberto Luongo. The oft-maligned netminder has kept a decent attitude through it all, taking the backseat whenever necessary, which is good, since Schneider will get the starts in the playoffs. If Schneider should collapse though, will the Canucks be able to trust Luongo, who has shown as much resilience in recent postseasons as a cardboard box in a hurricane? I think injuries and goaltending will play a role in this series more than any other factors, and I don't like how that looks for the Canucks.

Prediction: San Jose wins, 4-3.

The 2-7 Matchup: #2 Anaheim Ducks (30-12-6) vs #7 Detroit Red Wings (24-16-8)
Regular Season Series: 2-1 Red Wings

I honestly don't know what to think about this series. The Red Wings, by all means, shouldn't be here. They found themselves in the unenviable position of having to fight it out with the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets on the last day of the regular season (aside from today's game, thanks to those assholes in Boston) in order to gain a spot in the playoffs. The Detroit Red Wings have refused to die this season. Major retirements in the offseason have hurt them, as has shaky goaltending at times, and an inability most of the season to play the deep style of game that has made them the class of the NHL over the last two decades (sorry, angry Pens and Blackhawks fans, but Detroit is the model of consistency). Still, they have refused to die and become the Dead Things instead of the Red Wings.

Looking at coaching, Bruce Boudreau has done everything in his power to turn the considerable talents of the Ducks into a powerhouse, and he has succeeded. The Red Wings are run by Mike Babcock, one of the best in the game. He makes adjustments when necessary, and more often than not, they pay off.

I'm prefacing this by saying that I think the Red Wings could be this season's LA Kings and make it to the finals, because that's what the Red Wings do, provided that they win this series. But they won't, because the Ducks are just too good.

Prediction: Anaheim wins, 4-2.

The 1-8 Matchup: #1 Chicago Blackhawks (36-7-5) vs #8 Minnesota Wild (26-19-3)
Regular Season Series: 2-1 Blackhawks

Money cannot buy you happiness. But a LOT of money can buy you Ryan Suter and Zach Parise. How sweet it would have been yesterday, if the Wild failed to defeat the hapless Colorado Avalanche, despite their spending in the offseason. I get that as a Penguins fan, I have no right to say anything about a team loading up with talent to win a Stanley Cup, but the fact remains that 1) the Penguins did so through trades and the draft, and 2) I don't care.

Not even Dr. House can save the Wild here, though. The Chicago Blackhawks are the best team in the NHL this season, with all due (and desired) respect to the Penguins. I cannot see any team defeating them in a best-of-seven series until the final round, though injuries will almost certainly change the makeup of the Hawks. In the first round, however, this won't play much of a role, if any. Therefore, get your brooms out, because it's gonna be a sweep.

Prediction: Chicago wins, 4-0

Once the game between the Senators and Bruins ends tonight, the playoff picture in the East will be set, and I will write Pt. 2 with my Eastern Conference predictions. I'll be more informed about the East, because I honestly haven't watched much of the West this season at all, aside from the last week, when I was firmly on the Columbus bandwagon. I'll also be including a bit of a eulogy for the Philadelphia Flyers.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and thanks for reading through all of it. It was a big one.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"Perspective": My Interview With Photographer Duane Rieder

Duane Rieder's Engine House no. 25
    The stories written about the downturned economy are numerous, and seemingly everybody has been adversely affected or knows someone who has been damaged in some way by the nation’s economic decline in recent years. As with all stories that involve a test of wills, however, there are those who find a way to not only survive, but to excel. One such character in this story, Duane Rieder, has come out of the recession as a sort of Renaissance man. He owns a winery, a photography business, the Roberto Clemente Museum (which contains the world’s largest collection of memorabilia dedicated to the Pittsburgh Pirates legend and Puerto Rican hero), and hosts parties of all kinds, all within his multi-purpose studio, Engine House No. 25. Through his 27 years in the photography business, he has met some of the biggest names in music and sports, and has documented moments in time for some of the most prominent companies in the country, including United Airlines, ESPN, UPMC, Nationwide Insurance, and Mellon Bank. And if history proves to be an accurate precursor of things to come, his plans don’t stop there.

    Sitting at Sherlock’s in Erie last Saturday, eagerly awaiting a performance by the Pittsburgh rock band, The Clarks, I spied a bottle of wine sitting on a merchandise table, upon which was printed a picture of the band, as well as a familiar logo which read “Engine House no. 25”. This singular bottle of wine encapsulated much of what makes Mr. Rieder tick, a mashed and fermented blend of his passion for winemaking and his considerable skill as a photographer. “Technically, it’s not my wine anymore. I took the picture on the bottle and used to make the wine, itself, but now it belongs to a former partner,” says the photographer. It would seem an odd leap, from photography to winemaking, yet he found a natural connection between the ability to make wine to fulfill a passion while also using the bottles to promote his art through the pictures on the labels.

    But why, exactly has he diversified so much in recent years, from a successful photography studio to so much more? “The business has changed...three-hundred and sixty percent,” he says, with a tone that suggests the enormity of the transformation. “I was lucky that I got in at a good time. In the early 90’s, business was booming. I would expect $5,000 for a shoot, and a company would pay $10,000. Nowadays, I could expect $5,000 and get $500”. When asked why this is, he tells it like it is: “the economy isn’t so good, and with the perfection of the digital camera, it seems everybody thinks they’re a photographer. Within a company, why come to me when you have people who will take pictures for free?”. But Mr. Rieder keeps a remarkably positive attitude about the current state of the advertising photography business. “I gave a tour of my studio to some photography students earlier today,” he said during our interview last night. “One of the main things I tried to stress to these kids is that you have to keep everything in perspective”. While the photography business may never again see the boom it experienced in the 1990’s, a time in which he says Pittsburgh was one of the top advertising cities in the country, one can ever truly predict the future. This lack of predictability rings especially true for another subject that is extremely personal to him: Lawrenceville.

    The town of Lawrenceville, much like Mr. Rieder’s business, has changed significantly since the native of St Mary’s, Pennsylvania purchased Engine House no. 25, an impressively remodeled fire house, whose history dates all the way back to 1896. Founded in 1814 by William Barclay Foster, father of American composer Stephen Foster, Lawrenceville has seen some hard times in the past few decades. Once the home of the Allegheny Arsenal, a supply and manufacturing center for the Union during the Civil War, as well as several mills, Lawrenceville found itself in considerable disrepair after the decline of Pittsburgh’s steel industry. But, as Dr. Abby Mendelson, a lecturer at Chatham University wrote in his 1998 book, “Pittsburgh: A Place In Time”, “Rehabilitation and reuse is the game now, and Lawrenceville has learned to play it extremely well”. 

    “I was the first person to go to Lawrenceville,” explains Rieder about his role in reshaping the neighborhood, with pride. “They wanted me to come in and be a sort of role model for what could be. I opened up officially in 1996, at the beginning of the movement. There were nights where my lights would be the only ones on in town”. But now, 17 years later, that has changed. “We do all sorts of things in [the studio]. We’ve held town hall meetings, shown off the building to potential investors in the area, allowed them to see what could be done, and help them get grants and funding”. Nowadays, the studio isn’t the only building in  the neighborhood with its lights on at night, but rather, it has blended in with the sea of lights from the many newly opened restaurants and other businesses that have joined the movement of which he has been a part since the beginning.    

Mr. Rieder’s story of perseverance and determination does not run parallel only with that of his adopted neighborhood of Lawrenceville, but also with a man known to virtually all Pittsburghers, Major League Baseball hall of famer, Roberto Clemente, whose family has become very close with Rieder. From the beginning of his career as a Pittsburgh Pirate until his untimely death in a mission to bring relief to the earthquake-ravaged Nicaraguan capital, Managua, Clemente was often reviled by the local media. Portrayed as a weak-willed foreigner with a poor grasp on the English language, reporters often resorted to quoting him exactly as he spoke, in order to make him seem less intelligent than his English-speaking, and frankly, white teammates. Yet, Clemente used that negative attention to fuel his outstanding skills as a baseball player, earning four National League batting titles, 12 Gold Glove awards, 12 appearances as a National League all-star, and was named the World Series MVP in 1971, before his death in a plane crash in 1972, making him one of the most decorated athletes in MLB history, and a hero to many in Latin America.

When asked how it is that Rieder became so close to the Clemente family, the answer was, as could be expected, photography. “I was asked in 1994 to do a calendar full of pictures of Clemente. I went to his house in Puerto Rico, and found that a lot of the photos of him had been damaged by water, from hurricanes and humidity. I retouched the photos for the family, preserving them, and was named his official archivist in 1996”. From that point, he began accumulating photos and memorabilia of the superstar, though the idea of setting up the museum didn’t come up to the plate until 2006, when the Pirates hosted the MLB all-star game. Due to the legend’s prominent role in Pittsburgh baseball history, the Clemente family was present, and decided to hold a party for the event. The family asked that Rieder host the party in his studio, and it was decided that the building would undergo a bit of a makeover, transforming the ground floor from a studio into a room dedicated to the Puerto-Rican star. From there, the ball started rolling, and the Clemente museum was born. 

When asked about the family’s role in the museum, he says that they have allowed him to use Clemente’s name, something that the MLB has been unwilling to do in the decades since his death. Clemente’s likeness has been used countless times by the MLB and the Pittsburgh Pirates, while his family, including his widow, Vera, has struggled to pay the bills, receiving very little in the form of compensation for Clemente's contribution to the continued success of the league. Aside from spreading knowledge and love for one of baseball’s true legends, Mr. Rieder aims to assist the Clementes as much as he can. “There are a lot of things in the museum that are on loan from the family, which I do to help them out. The MLB and the Pirates take so much from them without giving back. There are lawyers duking things out right now over who owns the Clemente name,” he says, though he respectfully does not elaborate on the subject. It is clear, however, that the issue is one that is important to Rieder, not only as a person who grew up a fan of Clemente, but perhaps more importantly as a close friend of the family.

From photography and winemaking, to curating a museum and helping give new life to a community that many had once counted out, as well as working his hardest to raise his family, Duane Rieder has become a central figure in the constantly-evolving stories of many, whether it is known to some of them or not. Though a large part of his life is dedicated to capturing images as they were at a singular moment in time, his emphasis on moving on with the times shows that he realizes life isn’t a simple freeze-frame shot. “I diversified after the economy declined, and split my time 4 ways now, between the photography, wine, museum, and party business,” he tells me toward the end of our interview. “The photography is still going strong, and I have a few national clients still, including Dick’s Sporting Goods and UPMC, but there’s more to it now”. When asked how he does it, his answer is simple. “I’m a hard worker. We build all of our sets ourselves, and we do all the photo editing in-house”. Perhaps, though, the answer for why he has been able to not only survive in the photography business but to flourish might just be one that can only be obtained by seeing as much as he has in his career: “perspective”.

One of his most popular photographs, taken during the 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers Season

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Wrestlemania 29 Preview!

This is the first time I've written about wrestling here, though not the first time I've written about wrestling in general, nor will it be the last. That said, this should be a good time. I have gone through my down periods as a wrestling fan, not being very invested in the product for long stretches of time, but I've been bitten by the bug again. Throughout those periods though, I always watched Wrestlemania, and I haven't missed one since I became a fan in the 90s. Now that I'm actually following the WWE full-time again, I'm more excited for Wrestlemania than I have been for a long time. So...here's my preview. Hope you like it, the 5 of you who will read it.

Without further adieu, let's move on to the matches! I shall list them in the order of how much I care, starting from least to most. Speaking of not caring...
Pre Show: Singles Match for the Intercontinental Championship: Wade Barrett (C) vs the Miz

If I told you I cared about this match at all, I'd be lying. I think the Miz is one of the worst overall performers in the company, and I loathe everything he does. He's an annoying heel (not in a good way) and an insufferably bad face. If I had to make a comparison, I'd say he's the Rob Schneider of pro wrestling...just terrible. On the other hand, Wade Barrett is pretty cool, I suppose. Solid finishing move, in the Bull Hammer Elbow, but his character has become boring. I'm not going to waste any more time previewing this match, because yes they deserve to die, and I hope they burn in hell.

Predicted winner: nobody. We all lose. Luckily, it's not on the main show. But if I had to pick, I'd say the Miz will win, and we will all be worse off for it.
Eight Person Mixed Tag Match: Tons of Funk and the Funkadactyls vs Team Rhodes Scholars and the Bella Twins

Brodus Clay is bad. Albert/A-Train/Lord Tensai/Tensai/Sweet-T is bad. Cody Rhodes is good. Damien Sandow is one of my favorite wrestlers, and YOUR intellectual savior. YOU'RE WELCOME. In other words, the latter two deserve something better. But what we've got here is failure to communicate. And then we get what we have here, which is the way He (Vince McMahon) wants it. Well...he gets it! I don't like it any more than you men. Also, the Bella Twins are, to put it delicately, ugly women who allegedly performed sexual acts with Johnny Ace to keep their job, so hooray for Hollywood.

Predicted winners: Tons of Junk. This match has no implications, so there's no reason to make the little kids in the audience, to whom TOF is marketed, sad. So they'll make me sad instead.
Tag Match for the Tag Team Championship: Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan and Kane) (C) vs Dolph Ziggler and Big E. Langston

Finally a match I'm reasonably excited for. I'm interested in seeing how Langston handles himself in his in-ring debut on "the grandest stage of 'em all". I'm also interested in seeing if the belts are finally removed from Kane and Daniel Bryan. Their team started off fresh and exciting, and was one of the better parts of the show at the beginning. I looked forward to seeing them every night. But it's gotten to the point where I am indifferent about them. I think it's time for Daniel Bryan and Kane to go their separate ways. If they lose here, I expect them to face each other at Extreme Rules, and then end up in what will hopefully be a revitalized Intercontinental Title picture. Preferably, it would be Miz vs Bryan for the title at Summerslam. They have the history to make it a decent storyline.

On the other hand, I'm predicting that it will be a big night for Dolph Ziggler....

Predicted Winners and NEW Tag Team Champions: Dolph Ziggler and Big E. Langston
Singles Match: Chris Jericho vs Fandango

Why have I placed this match here, in terms of my overall excitement? Because Chris Jericho brings it every night. I don't know anything about Fandango except the fact that his gimmick amuses me somewhat. But Jericho pulling out a good match is a given. There's no better opponent Fandango could have for his "first" WWE match.

Predicted Winner: Fandango. It could go either way, though. I just think they'll put Fandango over to make him look strong in his debut.
6 Man Tag Match: The New Avengers vs The Shield

Is the Big Show a face? Is he a heel? Nobody knows. But by the end of this match, Randy Orton will have laid out a teammate (likely Sheamus) in order to start a feud with him and become a heel. I don't care about Sheamus, Show, or Orton. I think Orton has always been dry-toast bland, Sheamus is a product of the town time a few years ago when a "star" was needed, and the Big Show shouldn't ever be anything but an unstoppable monster.

But...the Shield. The Shield is awesome. They'll win for sure, because there is no reason why they shouldn't. At all. Not one.

Predicted Winner: The Shield. Winner, not winners, because the Shield is a singular entity of awesome.
Singles Match: Ryback vs Mark Henry

I'm a big Ryback fan, because who doesn't like an overly intense bald guy who does things like throw Santino Marella out of the ring like he was a baseball? Mark Henry's also been good lately, which is something I've never said before. This match is going to be very, very ugly. They'll beat the hell out of each other, and it'll be pretty entertaining. But the excitement comes solely from wondering if Ryback can deliver the Shellshock to Mizzark. I'd be willing to bet they're practicing it right now. If he does go for it tomorrow, assume Ryback has successfully done it to Henry about 10 times in preparation. Ain't nobody got time for a HUGE botch at Wrestlemania.

Predicted winner: Ryback. Take it to the bank.
Singles Match for the World Heavyweight Title: Alberto Del Rio (C) w/ Ricardo Rodriguez vs Jack Swagger w/ Yosemite Sam

I like Del Rio a lot, and I think Rodriguez is awesome. I don't think Del Rio has as much positive heat as he should, and I think it has a bit to do with him not chasing the title anymore. He was very over when he was feuding with the Big Show, because he was either chasing the title or had just won it, so the luster hadn't worn off. It doesn't help, either, that he is facing Jack Swagger, who has as much personality as Lance Storm, but lacks an ounce of the talent Storm had. But fear not, because this match doesn't matter at all, or so I hope.

Predicted Winner: Alberto Del Rio. Getting arrested for marijuana possession won't help you win the belt at Wrestlemania, Swagger. Enjoy the midcard after this.

I don't care about this match, but I listed it here for two reasons: first, it's the world heavyweight championship, so it deserves to be listed here. The second reason....

After the match, Dolph Ziggler will cash in his contract and pin Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship! With the tag belts and WHC, Ziggler will become one of the most prominent wrestlers in the WWE, and his character will work well with Del Rio in the feud that will follow. AND it'll get Del Rio over again. I love it. I'm a genius.
Singles Match for the WWE Title: The Rock (C) vs John Cena

I'm having a lot of trouble choosing which matches should be ranked where, at this point. The remaining three are all going to be awesome. John Cena is one of the best in-ring performers in the WWE right now, and I can't even boo him anymore because of it. He's a bit cheesy, for sure, and isn't a badass like the 18-death male demographic would wish, but he's had phenomenal matches against pretty much every opponent he's faced in the last year or so. The Rock, on the other hand, has been bland, hasn't been on a lot of shows, and is just sort of...there. But the Great One will bring it at Wresltemania, in front of the millions....AND MILLIONS....of the Rock's fans. IF YA SMELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL WHAT THE ROCK. IS. COOKIN'.

Predicted Winner: The Rock

I had picked Cena as the winner until....30 seconds ago. But then I remembered that the Rock is advertised for the Extreme Rules pay per view. I think the Rock will win here, John Cena will go nuts, beat the hell out of the Rock post-match, and turn heel finally. If that doesn't happen, Cena will win outright. So I really don't have a clue with this one. But I'm looking forward to it.

Edit: apparently The Rock is no longer being advertised at Extreme Rules, so you can pretty much guarantee John Cena will win tonight. I'm ok with this, too.
Singles match: The Undertaker vs CM Punk w/ Paul Heyman

The Undertaker has had the best match at the last 4 Wrestlemanias. Two of them with Shawn Michaels, two of them with HHH, and here, he might just have the best match of the night with CM Punk. The Undertaker knows how to put together an impeccable match, and CM Punk is the BEST IN THE WORLD. One of the best things about the Undertaker's streak is that it has become sort of unpredictable. Last year, I thought HHH might beat him at some point during the match. I never felt that way leading up to it, but in the match, it seemed like it was going to happen. This year, I'm feeling that way going in. Do I believe the streak will end? Nope. But do I have my doubts? Very much so.

Predicted Winner: The Undertaker. The Streak goes to 21-0 at Wrestlemania. 
No Holds Barred Match: HHH w/ Shawn Michaels vs Brock Lesnar w/ Paul Heyman

This is going to be a slugfest. There'll be chairs, someone's going through the Spanish announce table, the sledgehammer will show up, and HHH will come to the ring dressed as Thor. These things are all guaranteed. This might be the most exciting match on the show, and I'm through the roof excited about it. But wait...I'm not just excited because of the match, itself. I'm excited because Shawn Michaels will be there. And he won't just be standing in HHH's corner, no no. He'll be involved.

My big prediction for Wrestlemania 29 is that Shawn Michaels will cost HHH the match and his career, either by fully turning on HHH or throwing in the towel, ending a merciless beating from Lesnar. This will set up Shawn Michaels vs HHH at Wrestlemania 30.

Predicted Winner: Brock Lesnar

So there you have it: my predictions for tonight's show. Some people are saying it's too predictable, but that isn't a problem. Sometimes predictability and giving fans what they want is the best thing you can do. I don't think there is much of a chance for a big upset tonight, and I'm ok with that. Wrestlemania is always a special night, and for those of us who aren't too cool to enjoy something like professional wrestling, it will be a great four hours. I've got my chips and dip ready, my subway sandwich has hot sauce on it, and I can't wait for the heartburn that will follow.

In the words of Celebrity Deathmatch's own Johnny Gomez, good fight, good night.