Tuesday, October 7, 2014

S. Goes to Oakland Once Again - Part II

S. has returned to wrap up the tale of her adventure in Oakland!

Usually, a person can feel confident that the championship round night will be a great evening of bullriding, and not having to rush to the arena straight from work, and instead being able to enjoy some Vietnamese food and make our leisurely way, definitely helps. Upon settling into our seats, we noted that the crowd was not giant, but it definitely was better than Friday night's.

I had two newbies in tow, which always makes things more interesting, since I had to be ready to explain the idiosyncrasies of the sport, including some that perhaps I have given up on trying to understand myself. Like why Renato Nunes' hail Mary moves sometimes gain him points and sometimes lose him points, or why the PBR plays so little country music at live events, or why the announcers are so scornful about guys not taking re-rides (I had to limit myself on that on, or there would have been a full-blown rant), or whether everybody is actually named that, or how the hell they come up with the bonus points per round anyway.

My newbies weren't familiar, but we did discover via telephoto lens that Ty Murray was the color commentator (we could see the glint off his glasses across the arena). But mostly I was excited to see that they had some dividers bisecting the arena as the cowboys started marching out for their introductions, and I kind of rudely couldn't wait for them to be done, because I knew what that meant! And yes, out trotted Bushwacker in a spotlight, accompanied by much hyperbole. The bull, just like in Fresno, circled restlessly by the exit gate, probably wondering what on earth this was all about -- he knows his job, and wandering around in the arena isn't it. He certainly is a huge, striking figure.

We also quickly discovered that we were sitting near the family of a guy who had played football with Stormy Wing. They were very, very excited. Not sure how much having a dedicated cheering section may have played into Stormy Wing's mindset, but I guess it could't have hurt. Kody Lostroh managed to put up a very pretty ride despite his hand injury, and Guilherme Marchi got it together to sneak past one, although he wasn't looking as solid and secure as he usually does, unfortunately. And I have to claim a little bit of prescience, because I said to my friends at the event that Valdiron de Oliveira was looking focused and riding like his old self, and Biloxi just totally validated my insight.

Thankfully, there were more rides this evening (and at least one per flight), and that helps keep the energy up. Flint was back to his sing-a-long, although it just was for "Don't Stop Believin'" rather than for an extended set. The Stanley Stud of the night, was, I'm pretty sure, the firefighter who was the Fan of the Night last year, oddly enough. And the Fan of the Night this evening was the most adorable boy. He had longish white-blonde hair, and a hipster ensemble that included a fedora. When Flint gave him the buckle, he excitedly said, "Thank you so much!" There also was a pretty great scene where Silvano Alves bailed off his bull and directly on the shark cage, where Flint said he would "protect" him. I couldn't see what exactly was happening, but Silvano seemed to be doing some good-natured swatting.

But of course there have to be some things for me to grouse about, right? Firstly, I found it agonizing that they keep hyping up J.B. Mauney, complete with all sorts of shouting ("Who's ready to see the reigning world champ, J.B. MAUNEY?!"), and of course "Bad to the Bone" and increasingly desperate speculation about how he could somehow still be in the mix for the title this year. He's obviously banged up and going through a slump right now, so to have all this hoopla every time he's in the chute, followed by him promptly hitting the dirt like ellipses trailing off (sorry, had to play off of Hummer's obsession with exclamation points), can't be helping his psyche at all. It just seems kind of sad and grasping, with the commentators pretending he has a shot this year, I guess because they wish he did.

There also was an overly-long and un-funny gag about kids going home and trying to emulate Flint throwing his hat at bulls by throwing their hats at their dogs.  But then Flint went on and on about how they should throw them at cats instead.  Even the commentators started to back off, mumbling something about how maybe it was going too far.

Outside of that, there were also a couple of nasty scenes, including Neil Holmes trying to stick it to 8 and getting pulled under the bull. It looked like he got his thigh stomped on pretty hard, but when the injury report came back, it was all about a partially severed little finger and ear and a head gash?  Yikes. He got up and was shaking and looking at his hand, but I had no idea. So impressed with this guy's effort and try, but maybe a helmet is in order.

We finished off the long go with a couple of re-rides. Renato Nunes was scored 79.75 on his (sure, he was pretty out of shape at the end, but not sure that low a score was warranted), but did his back-flip. I have to wonder if Western Hauler, who jolted out of the chute and promptly fell on his side to try to squash Billy Robinson, will be seen too much more in the future. It's not the first time this bull has done that, and it's terrifying every time. Thankfully, Billy Robinson seemed relatively unscathed, and even though he didn't ride his re-ride bull, he still made it into the championship round.  

Unfortunately, the championship draft looked a lot differently than it was first presented, because numerous cowboys doctored out (Neil Holmes, Fabiano Vieira, Douglas Duncan, Reese Cates, Ryan Dirteater and Renato Nunes). This meant a couple guys with one relatively low score squeaked in, showing again that you just never know with this sport.

Roy (brother to Bushwacker) was really impressive in the championship round pen. Unfortunately, the real drama of his out was when Josh Faircloth's head connected with Roy's horn, and the cowboy hit the ground with a dull thud. He was out. Roy, we had heard, unlike his brother, was mean. He didn't want to leave the arena, that's for sure. Flint and Jesse Byrne stayed near Josh Faircloth, trying to keep him still (he started coming around and trying to crawl, obviously disoriented), while the other bullfighters got sucked into dealing with Roy. The pick-up man had managed to rope Roy, but couldn't get him out easily without risking Faircloth. So he had the bull off in a far corner of the arena. Unfortunately, Roy somehow got one leg hooked in under the rope, and started hopping around, eventually laying down and rolling around.  

Meanwhile, Frank Newsom and Shorty Gorham were trying take off the flank strap, and were working to get the bull's leg untangled, without becoming injury statistics themselves. When they succeeded with that, Roy took off, still roped, but clearly a bull weighs more than a horse and Roy wasn't making any effort to be cooperative. The pick-up man, with a mighty struggle, managed to steer the bull around the still-prone Faircloth and the Sports Medicine team, and out the exit gate.  Miraculously, Faircloth then got up, looking pretty bewildered, and was escorted out shortly after. It appears neither bull nor cowboy were too much worse for wear, thankfully, but as you can imagine, the television broadcast cut away from some of that pretty quickly.

The championship round was mostly the bulls' day, with Oklahoma Bell, a Pacific Bell son, putting on a nice show; so did Stanley FatMax (and Valdiron de Oliveira was this close to making the 8, too). Billy Robinson got right to the edge of making the confetti to fly with his ride on Cooper Tires Semper Fi, as did Joao Ricardo Vieira with his ride on Cowtown Slinger. The confetti did get some action with the feel-good story continuing for on-the-bubble Jason Malone, who was briefly in the lead. But then Stormy Wing hit a home run for real and won the round and the event with a 90.75 on Mr. Bull. His friends sitting near me went totally nuts, especially when he pointed at them (I think that was evident on the TV broadcast, but I'll send along a photo anyway). While I was excited for what was coming right up, it was kind of sad that the guy barely had a moment to savor his first BFTS win before they were escorting him out to prepare for his match-up with the bonus bull, Bushwacker.

The last time I saw Bushwacker was in Fresno, and I barely saw him buck there, since L.J. Jenkins was off in 1.45 seconds. This time, although the official buckoff was just over 3 seconds with a slap, Stormy Wing was on for a few more seconds than that, and Bushwacker was still bucking like the champ he is. And during those seconds, I had a moment of revelation that for all the BS that sometimes enrages me about this sport, this is why I watch. This is what makes it worth it--it's as simple as a rank bull really bucking and a cowboy really putting out the effort. Now if only the PBR and I can remember that!

So after my moment of clarity, we were off to the final moments of the event, with Stormy Wing getting a real chance to enjoy the spotlight, and Julio Moreno accepting the high-marked bull award for Roy (who, interestingly, would have won it even if Bushwacker's score had counted--the bonus bull score was apparently not part of the event ranking--as he outscored his brother). Looks like Moreno may have another contender.

So, there it is! And, since one of my friends won 4 VIP seats for next season through PBR Passport, I guess you haven't heard the last of me yet. I do have to say that live events really do help bring me back to the essentials of why I love this sport, so I'm definitely glad that NorCal is somehow a schedule hotspot.

Thanks again to S. for sending in her adventures!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

S. Goes to Oakland Once Again - Part I

S. is here once again to save us from the blank space that would be filled with the rantings and ravings of SQ and PdV, if they had not stalled on posting for an embarrassingly long time.  Welcome to the first part of her adventures at the Kawasaki Strong Battle By the Bay in Oakland!

When the schedule came out for the 2014 season, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to see Oakland on it. I can only imagine the PBR is getting a great deal on the venue, because attendance last year was beyond pathetic, especially on Friday. But who am I to question the schedule of the PBR, particularly when it rewards Northern California?

I wish I could say that the attendance was any better on Friday this year, but it would be a flat-out lie if I did. I'm guessing the PBR's expectations were low, since even the sponsors didn't bother to do much prior to the event, if they bothered to do anything at all.  Rider Relief was there, of course, with a rider doing a signing (Mike Lee) and their contest for a donation (you get a frisbee that you can try to throw into the bed of the Ford truck at a designated time, and maybe win a signed rider vest). Cooper Tire was doing some kind of prize contest, and of course the Fan Club/Passport booth was there, along with some people trying to sell sports tickets and Caterpillar/Bass Pro trying to get people to enter a contest to win a fishing trip with Luke Snyder (I think I totally confused the lady when I blurted out that I don't eat fish). That was pretty much it, besides one merchandise booth, and the ubiquitous PBR Visa people.

After "enjoying" my $9 cheeseburger with no burger from one of the few open places in one of the clubhouses, and meeting up with some friends, it was off to my seat, ready for the festivities. I'm pretty immune to the flaming introduction at this point, but it was apparent that the pick-up man's horse was not, poor thing. At least there wasn't a PBR Party Barn this year, so I didn't have drunken stumbling people threatening to dump beer on me all night long.

Anyway, even though the bull pen was not especially impressive, there were not a lot of rides. Of the rides, many were high 70s/low 80s, some with re-ride options and some without (some bafflingly without). Silvano Alves ended up with a 58.25 and turned down the re-ride – I could hear the PBRLive commentary in my head. Of course, re-rides didn't always help, anyway. Jordan Hupp took his re-ride and scored 2 points less on the second go-round (80.25 to a 78.25 with another re-ride option; he called it a day).

Thankfully there were some decent rides scattered in there. The newest beneficiary of a 3-event exemption based on stellar performance at a recent BFTS event, Neil Holmes, put up another nice one. Fabiano Vieira continues to amaze with his ability to ride with his nearly immovable free arm. Stormy Wing, the commentators' favorite "home-run hitter," managed to hit one this time around, and veteran Billy Robinson hit a triple, then, if we're using that jargon. The feel-good story of the weekend was Jason Malone, who desperately  needed to ride, and did. Still, eleven rides out of 35+ attempts in a long go was somewhat less than impressive. It was obvious that the wear and tear of the season is really playing a role in the ability of the guys to ride and their decisions regarding re-rides.  

There were a few bulls worth watching (Papa Smurf, Comfortably Numb and Wild For the Night were of note), and definitely some squirrelly bulls that didn't want to leave the arena or otherwise provided some entertainment. At one point, the pick-up man’s horse got nearly clotheslined and spooked pretty badly, but the guy kept his seat. Flint unfortunately then made some comment about how that was a better ride than Silvano Alves' low-scored ride.

Everything else was pretty much the way it always is, although they seem to have gotten rid of the Kiss Kam, thankfully, and the Stanley Stud-finder blessedly now only goes through beeping for one doofus in the crowd, so we don't have to sit through three rounds of it. Flint had some new material, which was good, although he couldn't resist some kind of "handout/welfare in California" joke, which went over like a lead balloon. The crowd just went totally silent, and then there was some quiet, ominous rumbling. Not sure Flint really wants to explore the GDP, federal tax dollars paid, and dependency of California in comparison to other states, because I’m pretty sure that wouldn't go anywhere he wants to go. Thankfully he quickly moved on and did some goofy dancing, which is all for the best. Outside of that, I saw Jim Haworth a couple times. The fan of the night was a girl who had been the Little Miss Buckaroo of her town, and wanted to grow up to be a barrel racer (Flint told her to  marry someone rich).

Of course, one of the reasons to go to an event on the first day is that’s when Fan Club member exclusives usually happen. In this case, it was an on-the-dirt signing. Unfortunately, this turned out sort of weird as there’s a ring almost like a cattle chute around the outside of the arena at this venue, so the riders went around that first to sign for the general crowd. The cowboys were then supposed to jump the fence near the chutes and come on the dirt, but not all of them did.  Which is fine. I don't feel the guys are obligated to do anything, and I know the PBR works hard to give fans access to the cowboys at events, and I certainly appreciate it. But it seems like if you are going to have an on-the-dirt exclusive signing, having the fans in the stands getting to see more of the cowboys than the people who have paid to be in the fan club is not how that should work.

Thankfully, the cowboys who did clamber over the fence were gracious. Tanner Byrne complimented my drawing (a general one for everyone to sign) and asked if I really wanted him to sign it, because he didn't want to "ruin it," which was kind of adorable. I had a drawing specifically for Guilherme Marchi to sign, but besides that, I was eager to have the chance to talk to Neil Holmes, the new invitee who is taking the PBR by storm. Having read some features on him, I was intrigued. He has been well-spoken in PBR interviews, and it’s pretty clear to me that the PBR could use a college-educated cowboy who can give more than the usual sound-bite ("just having fun," "riding jump for jump," "one bull at a time," etc.). Not to mention that he's everything that could bring new fans to the sport – definitely not the same old, same old. And now I can confirm that he's also very sweet to fans, even if he told me he didn't think he was cool enough to have fans.

I have struggled with what I want to say about this next part, and I am hoping I’ll figure it out as I write it. I just don’t even know what to say, and as annoyed as I was on behalf of the riders involved, I think it's best to leave it anonymous. I guess I’ll just say that there was some sort of weird incident that led to one of the PBR arena folks pulling aside a few riders and lecturing them in front of all the fan club members who were paying attention. Fans kept coming over who didn't realize what was going on, wanting to talk to those riders, and then the arena security would make them stand back, drawing even more attention to the scene. The riders involved looked so humiliated and angry, and I can't say I blame them.  I'm not entirely clear about the incident that started the scene, but regardless, the "discipline" could have been handled in another way, and certainly in another place!

Anyway, this kind of put a pall on the evening for me. However, I did have my drawing for Guilherme to sign, and he smiled when he saw it, and said, "Yes, I will sign this for you!" Then someone else grabbed him, but I was finally able to give him the extra copy. He then gave me a side hug and a "Bless you!" That definitely took a little of the sting off the weird scene for me.

I actually got dragged briefly to the host hotel by a friend, where various cowboys and PBR crew were hanging out in the lobby, but I had to catch a train out, so I didn't stay long. So, that was the first day. More to come.

Stay tuned for Part II!