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!  


Kris D said...

Thanx for the laughs. Flint sure was being a jerk; he has such a split personality. I like Neil Holmes's comment; hope he sticks around. I know you're being discreet, but inquiring minds want to know--and besides, the PBR brass deserve to be embarrassed--who were the berated cowboys?
Looking forward to Part II.

Shawk said...

I'm sure Flint will try his handouts in California joke again in Biloxi, where it might stick the landing. Sigh.

Neil Holmes seemed incredibly sweet, and the PBR could certainly use him. I hope he sticks around, too. Although apparently he suffered a partial finger amputation last week. Yikes.

Anonymous said...

I hope you elaborate more in part 2 regrading the chewing out of the bull riders and please give names!