Rookie of the year

Blind-sided

Originally published in February 2015 issue of El Estoque

I know quite a bit about football. This comes from not only one too many ex- periences involving my family, the Super Bowl and seven layer dip, but also having to sit through five hypothermia-inducing MVHS football games for band as a freshman. With just my clarinet as company, I was forced to learn football by watching the games.

I know that there are two teams, that the players wear padding in every pad-able area. I know that the offense has four attempts to move forward 10 yards and that once they get 10 yards, they get four more tries to go 10 more yards. I know that a touchdown is worth six points, a field goal is three points and a field goal after a touchdown is one point. And I thought that the players only had one goal: move forward.

The College Football National Champion- ship was on a school night. Although I hadn’t started my homework, I was excited to watch some good ol’ Monday Night Football with my friends, whose company I had bought with Pizza Hut. We sat down and as with ev- ery game I watch, I missed the beginning.

“Why don’t they have a game count- down?”

“Yeah, if only they had a 30-minute pre- game show…” my friend said.

Oregon, not Oregon State, played against The Ohio State. Oregon started on offense

and my friend told me that they’re notorious for their trick plays. But I sat there smugly, ac- tually understanding what’s going on.

I noticed that the players seemed to run straight into the other players — on purpose. I guess moving forward worked though be- cause Oregon scored a touchdown within minutes. However, Ohio State used brute force more and scored one touchdown and then another, ending the quarter at 14-7.

Later, Oregon finally scored a touch- down to make the score 21-13. But suddenly, even the replays began to replay because the referees couldn’t decide whether the Oregon player dropped the ball before or after he crossed the end zone line. He ran across a whole football field, dodging dozens of players ready to run him over, and dropped the ball — literally — because he wasn’t pay- ing attention. No touchdown. Oregon would score the touchdown on the next play — they only had to push half a yard. Regardless, rules are rules and anything can happen in a play, so the referee reversed the call.

Football seems to be a game of brute force, yet it’s ruled by the technicalities. I didn’t realize that football involves as much brain power as a game of chess does. In chess, they have to carefully choose the right square without getting killed by their competitors. In football, it’s the same thing except instead of getting killed, the players get sat on.

After that, I saw, in the replays, that hold- ing the ball by your head and by your shoul- der when diving into the endzone made the difference between seven points and zero points. This is why Oregon was losing by 22 points. Oregon players cried, Ohio State players cried — The Ohio State would win and they weren’t even giving Oregon pity touchdowns.

Confetti fell as I revelled in my enhanced knowledge of football. A week after the game, a friend mentioned the New York Gi- ants, but everyone knows that it’s the San Francisco Giants. As I said before, I know quite a bit about football.

Heading for the goal

Originally published in December 2014 issue of El Estoque

My friend and I started watching the London Arsenal against Borussia Dortmund game in our busy sixth period classroom. Ready for Thanksgiving break, students buzzed around us, but we focused in.

After a quick kick off, the players sped back and forth across the field in the humid London weather. The red Arsenal jerseys were extremely tight, so we could rank who had the best body — at least we weren’t watching baseball.

I played for AYSO in first grade. My experience mostly consists of eating snakcs. Now occasionally I watch my sister play for her club team but never had I experienced real soccer. European soccer.

The game seemed normal at first. The players moved strategically when the forwards passed back to the defense. They maneuvered past each other with neat tricks. They kicked the ball.

Soccer seemed simple enough, but only because the players were not trying. They simply played a game of pinball by launching the ball back and forth.

This game, the stakes were low for these high-ranking teams. As first and second place respectively, Dortmund and Arsenal had essentially already made it to the next round because the top two teams move on.

The first, and probably last, European soccer game that I watched did not matter.

Without an energetic Dortmund defense, Arsenal scored one goal within the first two minutes. Without an interesting game, we argued the purpose of the offside rule.

To me, offside seemed stupid. The offense is forced to give up possession when there are no defenders between a forward and the goal. Why punish players for running faster? Offense and defense should be equal. If the defense gets this protection of offside, why does the goalie get to use his hands?

Soccer has few things in common with other sports. First, the players have funny names — Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ciro Immobile, Yaya Sanogo. Second, the rules, like offside, can be oversimplified. Corner kick: players kick from the corner. Throw in: players throw the ball in. Wall pass: players use each others as walls to pass.

Yet, unlike other sports, soccer is ruled by stamina. Stamina keeps players fit for the long season and helps them reach the true goal — the FIFA World Cup. Since this game played a small role in achieving this goal, I missed the nuances of soccer that I would normally miss anyway because the players just didn’t care.

So as the soccer game digressed to mere sets of liners, we maturely resorted to making jokes about the players’ names.

“Are you a Messi Person?”

“No. I’m clean.”

We turn back to the boring game. Alexis Sanchez scores. The score changes. The players go back to their liners.

My friend began to educate me on the UEFA Champions League. Arsenal and Dortmund, the top two teams on this Champions League, will play in a round of 16 teams. From there, the eight winning teams move on to quarter finals, semifinals and finally finals.

They have a long way to go.

Soccer is like school. If a grade in a class is in the safety range of 3-6% above the grade benchmark, what’s the point in studying for finals? It’s smarter to study for other finals with higher stakes. Every semester, students prioritize studying to have energy when it’s the most important.

Even though teachers will not see a reflection of students’ understanding and even though I still don’t know what overlaps, step-overs, cruyff turns, single scissors and penalty kicks are, students and athletes play strategically by prioritizing. If teams spend all their energy on one minor game, players will not have the energy to compete at an important game the next day in a different country.

Dortmund was dormant and Arsenal scored two goals. The end of the game was not intense or close. In fact, Arsenal player Joel Campbell completely fumbled a normally tense free kick in the last minutes of the game. He must have been aiming for the Dortmund fans…

The game ended at 2-0 — not that it matters, the teams will move on to the next round as students will move on to the next final. They both have a long way ahead, so they just have to decide what’s worth their A-game.

Outside the line

Originally published in November 2014 issue of El Estoque

After school at my friend Rachael’s house, later at Peet’s and even on the way to the game, all I could think about was buying a Stanford University sweatshirt. College sweatshirts are cool. I forgot about the fact that volleyball was all I could think about two years ago.

I met Rachael on the MVHS freshman team. This third team was for misfits not good enough to make junior varsity but committed enough to be on a team. We never talk about volleyball anymore , but a few weeks ago, Rachael asked me if I wanted to come to the Stanford vs. UCLA game.

We entered the arena and I gravitated towards the apparel stand when Rachael yanked me away to find our seats. Rachael’s brother and dad joined us as the players began their warm-up. Balls began flying so high, that most were at my eye level. The players bumped, they set and they spiked. Suddenly, I felt the need to get up, run down to the court and join them. A 5-foot-4 high schooler runs down in her fake Vans and begins playing with 6-foot elite athletes in Mizuno volleyball shoes.

Yikes.

I used to have volleyball shoes — knee pads, spandex and headbands too. These athletic accessories come from my short-lived yet trying volleyball career.

I tried out in middle school all three years because my dad plays and I thought I could learn through osmosis. I tried out for the C team — the short people team — in sixth grade. I didn’t make it. I tried out for the six-seven team in seventh grade after doing United States Youth Volleyball League in the park for a year. I didn’t even make the first cut. I tried out for the eighth grade team. I made it through first and second cut, but I didn’t make the last cut.

After that, I made my parents pay for club because I was determined to play in high school. Club volleyball is a whole other world of expensive registration, tournament potlucks and liners — a lot of liners. Nevertheless, it paid off. Freshman year, I made the frosh team. Even though I was a mediocre player on the worst team, I loved it.

The next year, as expected, I didn’t make the team and my career as a volleyball player tragically ended.

After one quick year, volleyball has become so distant that I can no longer distinguish a top-spin serve from a floater or a net violation from a block. I don’t know any more than a spectator. I am outside the line.

Inside the line, Stanford players dominated. The key to their success was their blocking with six-foot-eight player, Merete Lutz merely raising her hands to tip the ball to the other side.

Stanford won the first set quickly, but by a mere margin of five points. In the second set, UCLA brought up its play and lost by only two points, taking the game beyond the usual 25 points maximum. The five-year-old girls in pink shirts and pink pants behind us shrieked, the crazy band continued to drum each other’s heads with mallets and the incompetent cheerleader line danced outside the court. Every time it was game point for the Stanford Cardinal — yes, a color is the mascot — we stood up. Every time Stanford lost game point, we sat down. We did so five times, and Stanford finally won the set 30-28.

Whenever we had to stand up, I remembered the worry during close sets like this. I remembered the anxiety that I would miss the serve or shank a pass and the game would be over in a split second because of my mistake.

Volleyball used to take over my thoughts and now it hadn’t crossed my mind for a year. This hiatus allowed to me to find passions that I am more than mediocre in and others that I’m still mediocre in. After the second set, I was glad that I stopped, even though it wasn’t my choice one year ago.

When we went to grab dinner at the food stands, I chose a vegetable wrap and excitedly headed to the apparel store with the reluctant Rachael. We stood in line for too long to find that they only had size large sweatshirts. After a series of are-you-sure’s and don’t-you-have-more’s, we headed back and sat down for the third set.

This set was interesting. I developed my own cheer to counter the shrieking five-year-olds’ cheers behind us for whenever Stanford’s Jordan Burgess pounded the ball down. While theirs resembled a scene from “Daddy Day Care,” my cheer was noble, incorporating more of a roar than a scream. UCLA won.

While cheering through the great and particularly interesting set, I remembered the fun parts of volleyball. I remembered why I got “Most Inspirational” freshman year — I cheered on every play. I remembered the times when my hits actually went over the net — they usually sailed under. I remembered why I willingly woke up at 5 a.m. to attend tournaments in Salinas or Gilroy every weekend — I enjoyed sleeping in the car. Even though I was mediocre, I truly enjoyed playing on a team.

Volleyball taught me how to cheer up a team, how to give a good handshake, how to take responsibility for my mistakes and though I no longer play, the Stanford game made me appreciate that I did.

The last set was quick. Stanford won because they were consistent. UCLA’s burst of energy and power didn’t last for the fourth set and the team caved in to Stanford’s blocks for the final set

As we cheered and walked out of the stadium, I did not think about the sweatshirt that I didn’t buy but instead about the volleyball game that I got to relive. Maybe I’ll play volleyball again soon. Of course, I won’t bother trying out for the team to save myself from floor burns and boredom — I’m at a Stanford level now.

Breaking the Ice

Originally published in October 2014 issue of El Estoque

While I waited on the doorstep of my friend Rachael Mathew’s house, all I knew about hockey was that the ball goes into the goal.

At 6:40 p.m., ready to watch the Sharks game, I sat in the Mathew’s living room. Rachael recited APUSH facts, her brother Kevin played basketball upstairs and I nervously glanced at all the ESPNs on the television guide. After scrolling up and down to find the channel, we started to watch the game preview.

“They’re playing the LA Kings,” Rachael said. “The Sharks suck.”

Rachael was only upset because last season she had cheered for the Sharks, and they disappointed her in the end.

The Sharks had started off the season tremendously well, but at the playoffs, the team started losing, and the Kings, who had barely made it to the playoffs, started winning. The Kings won so much that they took home the Stanley Cup, which seemed like a big deal until they showed Kings players eating Fruit Loops out of it.

Rachael and I, with Mr. Mathew, sat through an hour of the Kings parading their victory from last season. They showed off their banners, skated around in circles and waved their Tiffany & Co. Stanley Cup rings.

I was discussing Ebola with Mrs. Mathew when the game began. At first, the players’ motions seemed choreographed. They skated around the rink, and the play ended. They glided over to the middle with rhythmic breaths and the play started again. Everything made sense. The players try to score goals on the other side, simple. The teams seemed to have a system, a planned performance — until the fight.

After 15 minutes, I started to look up pictures of Nat Wolff when two players dropped their hockey sticks and held up their fists. I thought it was a part of the game because the referees kept their distance as the players skated around each other. And suddenly, the hockey game became a wrestling match.

From their hideouts, the referees blew the whistle after a good minute during which the players might as well have dove head first into the ice. The players were sent to their timeout spots and the elaborate dance continued.

Except this time, I noticed the pushing, the shoving, the falling and the painting of the rink wall with a Sharks player’s face. Kevin recounted another game in which a player’s four front teeth were knocked out. Daniel Alfredsson of the Detroit Red Wings just picked up his teeth, gave them to the bench and continued the game.

Hockey is ruthless and scrappy, not graceful or synchronized. According to Mr. Mathew, the lineup changes every 45 seconds. Thirty seconds gives them no time to accomplish anything, but one minute is enough to exhaust and eventually pummel them.

As one commentator stated, hockey is uncomfortable.

The Sharks had scored two goals by the second period. Unfortunately, the goals were made so quickly that I couldn’t even see them in the replays.

When the Kings tried to score, goalie Antti Niemi sat firmly in the goal or fell into splits formation. To the Sharks, defense was king.

By 8:38 p.m., we got distracted by Mrs. Mathew’s kale chapathis and talked about the time she saw Patrick Marleau at Trader Joe’s. As I turned back to the game, the Sharks scored again, and I actually saw it! In the replay! Tommy Wingels broke away and scored right around the goalie’s splits. Ten seconds later, Marleau nudged another in.

Ice hockey reminded me of the scene in Kung Fu Panda where Po and Master Shifu fight for the last dumpling with their chopsticks. The dumpling moves all around the rink as the pandas scramble furiously for the last bite. The Sharks team was Po. Everyone underestimated them, especially the esteemed Master Shifu, the Kings. After all, they lost to Shifu in their first round of the playoffs last season even with a 3-0 series lead.

Throughout the game, the commentator’s words, the numbers, the names, they went over my head. Despite Mr. Mathew’s earnest explanations, I still don’t know what the blue lines are for or what icing is. I can’t even remember what the timeout spot is called. All I know now is that in this jarring dance of ice hockey, the puck goes into the goal.

The whole nine innings

Originally published in September 2014 issue of El Estoque

In the Ramaiyer household, the living room is always occupied. Glued to the screen, my father normally follows whatever sport is on ESPN while I try to switch to Grey’s Anatomy.

But last Friday, I decided to sit through a whole baseball game with my father to see what kept him so captivated throughout the summer. With the Oakland Athletics up against the Seattle Mariners, my father generously explained the stakes while peeling potatoes for dinner.

The A’s started off the season successfully with a 72 – 44 record and were projected to be the top team in the West. But ever since they traded star-player Yoenis Cespedes, the team has been on a downward spiral.

Trying to make myself excited for a three hour game, I sat down and turned to Pre-game Live on ESPN. I checked the guide, and apparently these two oldish men had already been sitting and discussing the upcoming game for 17 minutes.

Besides the astonishment that they could talk for so long about how other men hit balls, I almost got a seizure from the numbers that constantly appeared on the screen. All I saw were mugshots and percentages, baseball fans and more percentages.

The spectacle of me watching sports brought the whole family to the living room, so I had moral support for my treacherous journey through the recesses of the MLB.

The first batter from the A’s goes up — Coco Crisp, that’s an actual name? The batter who seems to be named after a sugar cereal taps the bat on the plate and breathes as if performing a ritual.

Jason Paxton from the Mariners pitches, and his bat barely flinched.  Is Coco blind?

My father explained that Crisp passed because it was a bad pitch. A pitcher’s mistake is a ball, and a batter’s mistake is a strike. Four balls is one walk, and three strikes is an out. I tried to predict which pitches would be a ball and which would be a strike.

First pitch: Ball! Strike.

Second pitch: Ball! Strike.

Third pitch: Strike! Foul.

None of the players shave as a superstition so they looked like shamans in tights, chewing gum and never smiling. However, only nine of these uncouth players have to cover one whole field — no wonder they never smile.

My family went out to get dinner. It was just me and the game. Focus Malini.

The score was 1-2 with the A’s down, but the A’s had the bases loaded after two walks with two outs. Jed Lowrie comes up to bat, and I focused in.

My noisy family had swarmed back. Right when I opened my mouth to tell them to shut up, Lowrie struck out. According to resident umpire a.k.a. my father, he should have passed and made it a ball. With the A’s back on defense, the game had hit a plateau. The bottom of the eighth and the score hadnít changed since the sixth inning. The players had been at it for two hours already, and I was mentally exhausted.

Baseball is like a game of Sorry. You rarely ever roll ones or sixes to break out of your home, but when you do, the game becomes a race to the finish. The batters rarely ever break their ruts of balls, strikes and fouls. When the batter actually does get a hit or steal a base, the game wakes up and slaps you in the face with mere seconds of action.

And so at the top of the ninth, the game begins again. I guess seventh and eighth innings filter out the weak — my father wanted to switch to the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers game at 9-0, but I was going to go the whole nine innings. Suddenly, the A’s were getting on the bases. They had a sliver of a chance to win.

Two outs for the A’s already. One more, and the game would be over. The A’s batter walks up emotionless. Five pitches: ball, strike, ball, strike and strike — he’s out.

A game that ran for three hours ended in three minutes.

My dad cussed and switched to the more positive Giants vs. Dodgers game. Then he moved back to watch postgame analysis.

I was a little more upset. I had just struggled through three hours, and the team lost.

From the reason the pitcher suddenly throws the ball to first base to the difference between a ball and strike, at least I understand how America’s favorite past time works. The gray area begins with the tenacity of the players to go on for three hours everyday. They were to play the next day and the day after. I got even more tired just thinking about it.

Baseball is a game of commitment and vigilance through and through, commitment and vigilance that I didn’t have. While I nodded off, pitcher Jason Paxton served up his 96th pitch. While I wandered onto Twitter, the umpire called on every pitch. While the Aís played for another three hours the next night, I slacked and skipped the game for a party — the A’s won.

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