Friday, March 29, 2013

A victim of circumstance?

Well, another season of PBR is well underway, and as we all know, that means another season of figuring out what the heck the rules are at any given moment. While I will probably never be reconciled to the rules suddenly changing at least once a season, let alone the PBR's norm of one large change and multiple small modifications per season (whatever happened to the new slap rules, anyway?), I was willing to give the new cut and points scheme a chance. 

Anyone who has followed this sport any amount of time is used to The Powers That Be trimming the field by now, so the evolution to what essentially boils down to a cut every week should not be a surprise. The previous qualifying system, involving money earned for some things and points for others, certainly wasn't the most intuitive; streamlining that was a great idea, in theory. And it has always bothered me that established Built Ford Tough Series cowboys could go regularly to Touring Pro Division events, which are nominally about finding new talent, so I'm on board with whatever makes it less likely for the BFTS regulars to spend too much time at the TPD events. With TPD points worth a quarter of BFTS points, anyone doing decently in the BFTS is probably not going to see value in risking injury by slumming it in the TPD. 

But, as we also know, sometimes the obvious solution turns out to cause more issues than anticipated.  We’re seeing it play out right now.  Getting hot at the top of the season has always had benefits, but the advantages seem to have been exaggerated with the new system.  A guy can get invited to the BFTS thanks to a TPD win, get hot at precisely the right time and score well at one BFTS event, and then linger at the upper level for quite some time while doing very little. 

Coming up by making enough at the TPD events has never been easy, but now a high profile guy like Austin Meier or Valdiron de Oliveira can get injured or cold at precisely the wrong time and with no ceremony whatsoever, be quickly punted down to scrabbling for quarters of points. And we know Austin Meier can ride—even when cut, he was seeded in the Iron Cowboy by virtue of last season's standings and managed to win that grueling event. Valdiron de Oliveira is coming off back surgery and is rusty, but he was the world number one or two for most of last season and is pain free for the first time in yearsthere's no telling what he can do when the rust is knocked off.   But Meier and presumably de Oliveira will be driving from one Podunk TPD to another, getting one-fourth the points a few cowboys raised from the TPD, who will remain nameless, do by occasionally riding a BFTS long go bull. 

Now, I have every faith that Valdiron de Oliveira and Austin Meier will be back eventually. In fact, dominating some TPD bulls and gaining confidence might be just what they need.   And it's not that there is a perfect system, although the PBR clearly hasn't discovered anything close as of yet.  It's certainly not just that I don't want to see the "best cowboys" the PBR has to offer and am just clinging to familiar old guard cowboys, although I’m sure there is some element of that. 

No, where I'm coming from is this: it sounds great that we will always be seeing the best cowboys each week, but with this new system, the "best" seems to have been redefined in a way that makes it very easy for the mighty to fall and face a hard climb back, while the, er, less mighty might just get lucky at the right time and fill a spot long past their expiration date. Watching guys I admire claw and scratch at the bottom while malingerers hang on at the BFTS level is not my idea of a good time.  

It remains to be seen how this will play out for the remainder of the season, of course. Only time will tell, assuming the rules don’t change all around again in short order.   And I'm not a betting person, but I'm pretty sure I would have a safe bet on my hands if I said they will.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fresno, Part II

And now, the conclusion of S.'s adventures in Fresno, the lucky gal!

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!
I guess you can't pinch him

Because there’s really not much else we wanted to do in Clovis/Fresno, it was off to early entry to the Savemart. I guess because Bear Pascoe is a local success story and part of Team Weatherby, they opened the doors at 12:15 so people could meet him if they so desired. I honestly care very little about football, so instead we took the opportunity to enter a few contests and buy some raffle tickets from the Rider Relief Fund, which I always try to support.

Mike Lee hangs up
Upon entering the arena and the show starting up, we noticed that Flint had decided not to test destiny another day and had forgone the four-leaf clover shirt on St. Patrick’s Day. Instead, he had swapped out his customary red makeup for green, which even he said was sort of weird and creepy. The bullfighters also had green under their eyes, which mostly made them look like they had healing black eyes. 

Our seats were decent, so we had a good view of things such as Mike Lee helicoptering around in a bad hang-up, and Jory Markiss polling the crowd to see whether he should hit the challenge button (yes, he should, and yes he did, and yes he got the score, so we didn’t all have to chip in as Flint suggested). 

Jory Markiss gets
the crowd involved
Unfortunately, there were some drunken yahoos behind us. Since I had purchased fan club seats, I assume they were also part of the fan club, and that’s depressing. They were making all sorts of annoying comments, but when they got into the racism, they nearly got a lap full of Jamba Juice. Luckily I avoided wasting that five dollars as well as being ejected, as halfway through section two, I noticed a woman with a PBR lanyard coming towards us, and then she said, “Are you ready to go to your chute seats?”

Are we ready to go to our chute seats?! Are you kidding me? She didn’t need to ask twice—my friend had won chute seats from the RRF! We shot out of our seats and followed along, past security, where she explained to us what we could and couldn’t do (can wander anywhere up in the area as long as we don’t trip or bother anyone; can’t wander off without an employee, etc.). I only really absorbed about a third of what was said. 

View from the chutes:
Luke Snyder on Woody
We clambered up the incredibly steep metal stairs and suddenly we were walking behind J.W. Hart and Craig Hummer and their television feed. We were told that our seats were in the second row, but if there was a chance to move forward, they would let us know.  Bear Pascoe was watching the action, waiting to be interviewed for the broadcast, and then the woman was saying, “Have you met Bear?” What? And then my hand was being engulfed and crushed in the extremely firm handshake of a giant football player with piercing blue eyes, a Superbowl ring, and a cowboy hat.

Highway 12 gets ready to take on J.B. Mauney.
At this point, I was totally overwhelmed. In a good way, but still, out of all the people in the arena and all the people who entered the raffle, my friend’s one ticket had won and we were standing above the bucking chutes and talking to a 6’5” football player. Below us and to the side, we could see the crowded mass of cowboys behind the chutes, bulls in their chutes, the judges, the stock contractors, and the gatemen; right next to us were J.W. Hart and Craig Hummer talking into their headsets as they watched their screens, and behind us were the bull pens. Anytime there was downtime, I went back to watch the amazingly intricate procedure of shuttling the bulls from one pen to another, some bulls being able to be penned with a buddy and others pawing and snorting at their fellows in other pens. And there is so much noise and controlled chaos at the chutes, with cowboys calling for their friends to “pull,” judges yelling for guys to hurry up, bulls letting out exasperated bellows, and gates and pens clanking. Sometimes a cowboy would decide to bypass the crowd directly behind the chutes and would clank his way up and across right behind us.
HIGH Steaks and friends

Perhaps the most amazing thing was when they would crack the gate and a bull would power out of the chute—the whole floor would shake, there was bull snot and dirt and other things flying (at one point, I barely dodged a flying chunk of bull patty—more atmosphere than desired!), and just seeing how massive and muscular the bulls are as their hind hooves are kicking up toward you….I don’t even know how to describe it.  I know this is what David Neal is trying to bring to everyone, but having experienced this firsthand, PurePBR has nothing on it.
Controlled chaos at the chutes

I will also say that while I have huge issues with the PBR’s lack of transparency in judging, I have a much greater sympathy for the judges after having had this experience. (And this is not just because I ran into a judge in my hotel lobby and he seemed a decent sort.) On TV, the camera is just focusing on the ride at hand or nearly at hand, but standing above the action, you can see the whole crew surging back and forth from chute to chute, trying to keep things going. I don’t know if the replay judge is watching every ride on his screen or not, but the other judges have 8 seconds to register whether they think there is a problem, and formulate their scoring for bull, and possibly, rider. There’s already another guy queued up, so unless the judges see something, they are not going to hold up the show just to check things out. I think we television viewers forget, having access to each ride in slow motion shown repeatedly from multiple angles while it is beaten into us by the commentators if anything might have happened, that this is not what the judges are seeing and hearing.

Shorty is happy that Frank
is the Go To Guy
There was one incredibly insignificant downside to this amazing chute experience: I will say that I started to lose track of exactly what was going on, unless the cowboys had distinctive hats or helmets or the bulls had markings that were obvious. You can’t see the big screen without turning away from the chutes, and I sure wasn’t going to do that, or waste any moment of this experience looking at a day sheet. Once the bulls covered some ground and were out in the arena, it was a bit easier.

Joao Ricardo Vieira picks
Asteroid in the draft.
Next to us, there was a very nice lady who had let us slide up front, although she’d paid for the seat to celebrate her birthday. She was very vocal and very funny, giving us some insider information she’d picked up over time, and yelling out her encouragement to the cowboys and the bulls. It’s always a kick to meet interesting fans, that’s for sure.

I really didn’t want the event to end, but soon enough the guys were going up on the shark cage and choosing their bulls for the short go. Joao Ricardo Vieira had the most amazing smirk on his face when he chose Asteroid, and the crowd let out this amazing sound when he did.

Shorty was here
Unfortunately, we were right above Emilio Resende’s wreck on Detailer. The television crew tends to keep a respectful distance while sports medicine goes to work, and when sitting in the stands, you can’t really see what’s going on, thankfully.  However, we could see everything, and I honestly thought I was going to cry. From the way he hit the ground to the way his head rebounded when the bull’s hoof hit him to the way the first medic leaped out to stabilize his neck while the bull was still in the arena, it was incredibly scary. Not to mention when Shorty Gorham got tossed into the fence, although he bounced up as if nothing had happened. Guilherme Marchi looked so stricken, and that didn’t help at all. When Resende wobbled up to his knees and then, with support, staggered to his feet and Marchi gently put his hat back on, I couldn’t help but let out a whoop. (Even if I was thinking, please wear a helmet!)
Joao Ricardo Vieira puts his
bull rope on Asteroid

I went to the back to watch Asteroid being loaded up, and he seems like a stubborn little guy. He just didn’t want to put his rear leg in the loading chute no matter what, although finally he allowed that to happen. Vieira came over to tie his rope on, and then just spent some time standing by and communing with the bull. It was kind of an interesting scene, as the cowboy and the bull surveyed the competition.

You’ve all seen the results of the final round—the cowboys were blanked.  But let me tell you, there was a lot of yelling, some of it from me, when it looked like Vieira was going to make the whistle on Asteroid. I know it took Asteroid an atypical couple of jumps to get into his usual form, but that is one compact little bucking machine. Oftentimes the big guns don’t make it to NorCal events, so seeing him buck in person from the chutes was incredible, not to mention David’s Dream, Palm Springs, Jack Daniel’s After Party, Shepherd Hills Trapper…it was pretty close to a who’s who of bulls and I sure wasn’t complaining, even if I wish somebody had ridden. As much as I like Silvano Alves, it’s kind of anticlimactic when a guy wins without riding in the final round, let alone no one riding in the final round.
Silvano Alves gets ready on
Jack Daniel's After Party

Things were unfortunately coming to a close. We asked our friendly fan club person if it was okay if we talked to the commentators when they were done recording their wrap-up, and she said, “Of course!” So we listened while Hart, Hummer and Shorty Gorham recorded their part, and then Hart and Hummer did another bit (I assume for their weekend in review), and then I was talking to J.W. Hart and Craig Hummer. Unreal! I have to say that Craig Hummer seems like an incredibly nice guy, and he seemed excited to talk to us. J.W. Hart seems just like he does on TV, actually. They both were gracious and polite, and I enjoyed having the chance to meet them (even if I might have secretly hoped Ty Murray was a commentator instead).
Fresno's 2013 champ

The nice PBR lady asked us if we wanted to go down on the dirt, as others of the people in the chute seats already had, but since we had just done that the night before and had a four hour drive in St. Patrick’s Day traffic, we decided to bypass it. So she walked us down the steep stairs and past the bull pens to the elevators, thanked us for coming and hugged us. Really, thank you, RRF and PBR! I still kind of can’t believe any of that happened—I was hyped up for hours afterward and now I’m afraid I’m totally spoiled for live events. It was totally worth it, though!

Still can't believe this happened
So there it is, folks!  Sorry this is so long and possibly incoherent. I was entirely overwhelmed and amazed by the chute seat experience, and I devoutly hope each of you will be able to experience it (or, experience it again).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Return of (and to) Fresno - Part I

Sorry for being such a laggard on the posting front -- blogging and having a day job don't always go together. Fortunately, S. is here with her Fresno tales and photos to keep us entertained!

Much to my joy, Fresno returned to the BFTS schedule this year, and so of course, did I! Fresno is a somewhat weird destination to get excited about, I realize. And then things did not start off auspiciously as I ended up driving rather than taking the train (Amtrack decided at the last minute that a bus bridge would be a great idea for half my trip -- I disagreed), but in the end, Fresno not only met, but exceeded expectations.
Darryl Worley sings
the national anthem

So, into the Prius (I got some really weird looks from guys in big trucks; I guess you don't see many Priuses with PBR stickers) we went. After numerous stops for coffee in such thrilling destinations as Tracy, Ceres and Chowchilla, we arrived in good time to pick up tickets for the Saturday night event at the Savemart. With Posse early entry, we made our way inside and entered various contests. Not much else was going on, although I had a little chat with Ty Pozzobon at the Wilco Gopher Bait booth; he seemed very interested in my drawings, and also seems like a very nice, polite fellow. We also found Austin Meier at the Wrangler booth, and had a somewhat hilarious encounter with Team Weatherby at the Rider Relief Fund table. On Saturday, Team Weatherby consisted of Chad Mendes (a MMA fighter), Darryl Worley (a country singer) and Brendon Clark. I somehow ended up having Chad Mendes sign something for me even though both he and I clearly knew that I don’t know or care about MMA fighting, but he was a good sport. I also don’t know much about Darryl Worley, although his rendition of the anthem was quite good and he easily avoided all the off-key wailing of many of the attempts heard via the Live Event Center thus far.

PBR Party Barn baffles
Anyway, having not been to a live event this season until now, I found a few things… interesting. Firstly, while I like fireworks, I miss the flaming bull heads. Secondly, there is now something called the PBR Party Barn, which is across the arena from the chutes and behind the in-arena announcers. As best I can tell, it’s a place you can go to get totally trashed on PBR beer while you stand in cattle fencing, packed in like cattle, and barely see the event? Apparently some people go for that.

Monster Energy girls
do the shimmy
And then there were the dreaded Monster Energy girls. Not content to lurk bustily behind Clint Adkins and Brandon Bates, they also opened the show with two of them shimmying on the shark cage. What the heck? It was just so sad that Monster/the PBR thinks this is a good idea, and I felt kind of sorry for these two women pathetically dancing in their skimpy outfits. I don't drink energy drinks, but Monster is definitely on this woman's list to avoid after these kinds of displays.

We were also subjected to Uncle Kracker, whoever he is, talking and singing to us via video about how nobody is sad on a Saturday night. As if I didn’t already know it, between yelling R. Lee Ermey, Uncle Kracker and the Monster girls, I am pretty sure that whatever the PBR thinks their target audience is, I’m clearly not it. I'm also not the hugest fan of the new Gary Allan theme song, but obviously the PBR is not consulting me on these things.

The luck of the Rasmussen
Flint was wearing the dreaded four-leaf clover outfit that he had only worn one other time—the time he got clotheslined in the pick-up man's attempt to get a bull out of the arena. There was a long bit with Clint Adkins about it—they of course showed the infamous video again, and they’re so very right, it never grows old. There were actually a couple of times where it was in danger of happening again, but I guess those who learn from history are not doomed to repeat it. In other Flint news, much of the audience was too young to know the words to “Sweet Caroline,” so that whole part of the schtick was depressing.

For the first round, the bulls were fairly strong, which I was pleased to see. There were only two re-rides offered and one taken. I was sort of taken aback by all the talk of Silvano Alves having slapped his bull when I looked online, as I didn't suspect it during his ride, and don’t remember seeing any concern about it or any talk from the in-arena commentators, either. I have some reflections on judging that I’ll bring up later, since I got a whole new perspective on Sunday, but it’s interesting to me how differently things play out live versus on television. I was also impressed that he scored so highly, being used to the usual 80-82 point scores he is given, although in the end the night narrowly went to Kody Lostroh.
Trust me, Shane Proctor
has awesome boots

The one part of the evening I could have really liked to have not happened was Agnaldo Cardozo’s wreck. With the way his head snapped back, I was certain he had a spinal cord injury. I think the guy who jumped down to stabilize Cardozo’s neck while the bull was still in the arena thought the same. Thankfully, Julio Moreno was able to get the bull out without further incident, and then it was the stressful silence of an arena full of people holding their breath and praying. Having a guy lying in the dirt with blood coming out of his mouth, then get strapped into a backboard, is just so horrible, and seeing Guilherme Marchi, who is usually stoic, look so upset and run out of the arena with his comatose friend just made it even worse. This definitely put a damper on the evening, especially since we didn't hear until the next day that Cardozo “just” had facial fractures and a concussion. While everyone who knows anything about the sport knows that a catastrophic injury is a possibility, potentially seeing it in person is an experience I would never like to repeat. I do hope after this and his broken nose at the Iron Cowboy, Cardozo will consider a helmet.

Emilio Resende,
meticulous cowboy
Although after the awful accident we were pretty somber, Posse had set up an on-the-dirt signing after the event. Unfortunately, first we were told the wrong information about how to get onto the dirt by the fan club, then entirely different wrong information over the airwaves by Brandon and Clint, followed by variations on a theme by two different Savemart employees. We did finally make it, though, and I enjoyed a fairly long and animated conversation with Cody Nance about Super Duty/Hustler (“We’re buddies! I love that bull!”) as I admired his pink paisley shirt and camo neckerchief combo. I also told Shane Proctor that I liked his boots, which seemed to amuse him (he does have some of the most daring fashion sense of the current crop of BFTS cowboys).

Edevaldo Ferreira
and his great glasses
The highlight, though, was meeting some of the new Brazilian riders. While almost all of the riders are pleasant, I really enjoy how much the Brazilian riders seem to value the fans, and the newer guys, who must be a bit bewildered and frustrated by being unable to communicate clearly, are still there and putting out so much effort to interact and get to everyone. Personal favorites this time around were Emilio Resende, who wanted to be very sure he had signed everything to everybody’s satisfaction, and Edevaldo Ferreira, who made sure my picture with him was “beautiful” before he moved on down the line. I do feel a little badly for Silvano Alves, who seems to find the idea that people want to talk to him sort of embarrassing, but his English has improved a great deal and hopefully this will help him feel more comfortable.

We ended up having a nice chat with some great ladies while we waited for the hotel shuttle. I bring this up because I would nearly throw my $5 Jamba Juice on some racist drunk jerks behind me on Sunday, so I'm happy to report that there are sane and sensible fans out there to be met, too. That’s pretty much it for Saturday. Stay tuned for Sunday, which may have spoiled me for live PBR events forever!