Tag Archives: Penn State

Halley’s Comet, The Moon, and What’s to Come On This Blog

Anyone who is somewhat intrigued enough to click on this post will likely realize right away that it lacks a picture.

That is the case because this is meant to tease an announcement of a series that is forthcoming, and any fitting image would tip my hand more than I initially care to. If you know what I normally write about on this blog combined with what time of year it is, you could likely wager a successful guess at what is on the way, but the specific details — the lifeblood of this project that I hope will make it go — will not be made public for a few more days.

If you’re still following along, let me try to explain the title of this post and the reason(s) for doing this.

Back in mid-April, I was visiting my alma mater for Penn State’s spring football game. The weather was beautiful (which is rarely the case for one of these), and I was pumped to spend the day tailgating with a group of Twitter friends who I had turned into real friends and became close with over the past two and a half years.

After finding my group and shaking a few hands, I was greeted with a familiar voice of the gentleman who ran the always impressive tailgate.

“BALIS!!”

Somewhat startled, I quickly whipped my head around.

“What’s it gonna take for me to get some content to read on your blog? I pay good money to support that site, and I’m reading posts from two years ago about Andy Reid.”

For context, this blog didn’t exist two years ago, it receives no money from supporters, and aside from a tangential mention here and there, very few if any posts focus on the former Eagles head coach.

He had a point though, and he wasn’t done making it.

“Do you know how much money I pay to be on his site?” he asked his friend standing next to him.

“He doesn’t pay anything,” I said in return, now trying not to laugh while opening a beer. “It’s a free blog.”

“I pay good subscription money to read that website, and I cannot get any new content. What the hell man? Write something for me.”

He proceeded to jokingly refer to me as Halley’s Comet, a cool thing that shows up in the sky every now and then only to disappear again quickly and for an extended period of time.

That part he was correct about, and I in a way would go on to further his point. At that moment in time, it had been three and a half months since I last published a post. The following week, I took his feedback to heart, writing two think-pieces around the NFL Draft and Marcus Mariota.

Since then, I have been pretty quiet again aside from a Phillies related post on occasion. Part of this downtime is the result of one of the quietest times of the calendar year for football, just waiting for things to ramp up. Another component is the principle of burn out. It’s a perception that I have fought as a writer for a couple years.

I show up. I crash the party. I turn some heads and make a splash, getting linked on ESPN a few times, building a presence along the way and also a few haters. People begin to take notice, and then I get tired and go away for a bit.

I want to end that perception. See, while it was said in a semi-complimentary way, I don’t want to be known as Halley’s Comet, I want to be associated with more of a consistent astronomic presence, say like, the moon.

To accomplish this will require work, and it won’t be done overnight, not literally nor figuratively (I broke my habit of late night writing post-college and have no desire to go back). This blog has on-and-off existed for 15 months now. The most enjoyable months were last summer, when I was writing about the Eagles, specifically the month of August right before the season started.

You probably have a good idea of this pending announcement, but the finer details are what I hope will make it special for both me and you.

See you in a few days, and another few days after that. Halley’s Comet is no more.

We’re not going to disappear this time.

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Cliff Lee, The Phillies, and The Night I Realized Twitter was The Place To Be for Breaking News

For much of the fall months, I have devoted this space solely to the Eagles — Either mini-think-pieces, analytical posts, Cody Parkey kickoff contests, trolling national writers who thought Chip Kelly had any interest in the Florida job, and haikus. Mix in a post or two about Penn State, and that has essentially comprised the entire blog.

Today, we are going to go down a different route because tonight marks the four-year anniversary of one of my favorite baseball memories.

Favorite baseball memory on December 13? Is that even possible? 

Yep, it sure is, and it has nothing to do with a perfect game, walk-off home run, or World Series moment.

Rather, it marks the four-year anniversary of Cliff Lee — my favorite baseball player of all-time — spurning the Yankees (and Rangers) to re-sign with the Phillies in free agency after having been surprisingly traded by the Phillies one year earlier.

Furthermore, it was the key moment in an intersection of sports and social media for me, as it was that night when I realized that Twitter was truly the best source for breaking news.

To appreciate how significant of a moment this was though, you first have to understand how unlikely it was.

After giving them fits in the playoffs in back-to-back Octobers, the Yankees were far and away considered the favorites to land the most prized free agent on the market. They needed an ace to team up with C.C. Sabathia, and it was no secret that Lee was the apple of Brian Cashman’s eye as the winter meetings went down the previous week.

The Rangers — Lee’s team for the second half of the 2010 season — were also thought to be trying their hardest to not let Lee get away, but few thought they would be able to go toe-to-toe with the Evil Empire. Some Phillies fans — myself included — held out hope that a Philadelphia reunion was possible, but we also knew the reality of the situation.

The Phillies had dished out some massive contracts in the previous years and already had a rotation featuring Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt. Even if there was some mutual interest, they financially couldn’t match what the Yankees would offer.

It seemed like a near forgone conclusion that Lee would soon call the Bronx home, and many were surprised that a deal wasn’t completed the previous week.

On Monday, December 13, 2010, things started to heat up when Jon Heyman reported early in the day that a “mystery team” might be in on the Lee sweepstakes.

The use of the term “mystery team” is normally pretty hollow, thrown around by agents to reporters to drum up more interest in their client, but Heyman might have been onto something here.

Heyman initially did not provide a ton of context, but later in the day, Jayson Stark took a stab that the mystery team might actually be the Phillies.

At this point in time, I did not even possess a Twitter account. I was one of the folks who was fascinated by the site enough to search for things but hadn’t yet joined and started tweeting on my own for whatever reason.

I began reading about Stark and Heyman’s tweets from my Facebook feed though and quickly texted some of my friends who I often talked baseball with.

It was my Finals Week in school, and with no exams until Wednesday, I had a lot of time to spend on the Internet between studying, and nothing had me more excited than the idea that my favorite player might come home again.

A few of them knew what I did. Others had not yet heard. This was no doubt moving quickly though, and as the afternoon transitioned to early evening, I must have typed “Cliff Lee’ into whatever the Twitter search bar looked like in December 2010 a good 100 times looking for any legitimate updates that existed.

Stark seemed to be picking up steam.

Heyman jumped in again, this time with a bit less vagueness.

At this point, any additional studying that night was a distant thought. I was locked into this, eagerly searching for news on Twitter every second.

One of my friends responded to a text at one point as the night got deeper with:

Where the hell are you finding this stuff? 

“Twitter, dude, we gotta be on Twitter. This is where it’s going to go down,” I answered.

Nothing was official yet, but as the night wore on, reports came out that the Yankees and Rangers had been informed Lee would not be going to either club. The context clues were all there.

“Dude, holy shit. He’s coming back. This is really happening. He’s coming back.” 

Bam.

A few hours later, SportsCenter came on the air with “Cliff Lee is a Phillie again,” but the news had already dropped on Twitter earlier.

An Associated Press article published in the wee morning hours may have summarized things most succinctly in terms of what Lee’s decision represented for the sport:

This was a rare instance in which the Yankees’ financial might failed to land a player they wanted.

The baseball world was turned upside-down. Now embattled Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro was praised for getting his man. I have pointed out before, that for as much as some folks may currently hate Amaro, they certainly loved him on that epic December night.

From a baseball standpoint, the move hasn’t completely worked out as envisioned. The Phillies have only been to the playoffs once in Lee’s four seasons, and after three fantastic individual years, Lee suffered through an injury-plagued 2014 campaign that saw his season come to an end on July 31st as he reached for his elbow and walked off the mound in Washington D.C.

At the time, it looked like it could be a career-threatening injury. Thankfully, that does not appear to be the case and Lee should hopefully be ready for spring training, but I wrote at the time about how it was a classic example of how cruel and unfair baseball is.

Derek Jeter received a well-deserved farewell tour. One of the best big game pitchers of this generation possibly got a random Thursday night with hardly anyone watching.

Like most big contracts, the final years normally result in some buyer’s remorse, and that will likely be the case with Lee should effects of the elbow injury decrease his trade value.

What a night though. What a night for the Phillies, for baseball, for social media, and for myself, whose favorite player told the Yankees no and came back.

Not to completely internalize something that wasn’t about me, but I think about how Twitter has been a big part of my early career and my life over the past four years, and the origins trace back to that night.

I have turned Internet friends into real friends through that website and was once even invited to a wedding by someone who I had first met on Twitter.

Baseball stories first broke on Twitter prior to that night, and bigger ones have gone down since, but nothing was more meaningful to me than the one that night.

Nowadays I’m not too excited to be on the site when news breaks concerning the Phillies. The demolition of a once great roster could happen at any moment, and the first shoe already dropped this week with the trade of long-term shortstop Jimmy Rollins. For things to get better, all of it needs to happen, and at some point it will likely involve Cliff Lee.

Regardless of when and how it happens though, I wouldn’t trade what transpired four years ago tonight for anything.

Drinks with My Cousin

After nearly a quarter-century of knowing a family member, the popular notion would be that the relationship — good, bad, or non-existent — is pretty well set in stone.

That sounds pretty reasonable after all. Just about everything is known: Strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes. It’s all there. Nothing is going to change at this point.

Except sometimes, that’s not actually the case. Sometimes, one night, a couple text messages, a few drinks, and a whole lot of camaraderie can take everything you thought you knew and flip it upside down — or maybe in this special instance right-side up.

My cousin was born 17 and a half months before me. He was two years ahead of me in school and our houses were only separated by 25 minutes of driving. While growing up, we probably saw each other approximately 30 times a year between birthdays, holidays, and get-togethers.

In theory, this would set us up to be decent friends. The problem though is that the similarities listed above were pretty much the only thing we had in common.

As kids, I was into more mainstream sports while my cousin took up karate. He was damn good at it too, eventually getting his black belt, but we never had a catch with a baseball or anything like that.

There were plenty of times where we tried playing video games together. Mario Party was a favorite, but for the most part, I played sports games and him strategy ones like The Legend of Zelda.

“Are there any games you don’t suck at?” were his words after I had zero idea what I was doing in some GameCube thing.

“Uhh…I’m okay at Madden,” I said. The tables were completely turned, and winning 21-0 after the first quarter while sacking the quarterback on every play is about as fun as dying every 30 seconds in some non-sports game.

When we got tired of video games at family gatherings, I would usually be watching the Phillies game with my dad and uncle while he built some killer paper airplane.

I was no slouch academically, always one of the smartest kids in my class in elementary and middle school, but my cousin was a genius. He didn’t flaunt it, but just talking to him as kids and then teenagers, he was so smart that you just couldn’t measure up.

In second grade, I wrote a “book” as part of some gifted program at school. He won some science fair around the same time. In high school, I qualified for states in FBLA. He built a robot. I got a 1950 on my SAT’s. He got close to a 2400. I graduated 35th in my class of 750 seniors. He was the salutatorian at a private school.

If my cousin wanted to, he could have gone to college at age 15 and aced every class. Hell, he probably could have taught the class, and aside from “Wow, our professor looks really young,” the students wouldn’t have thought anything was off.

In the beginning of my junior year of high school, I was having a tough time with a few concepts in honors precalculus and decided to email him for help. He made it seem easy, almost too easy, like it wasn’t even fair.

Just to clarify so the wrong idea isn’t portrayed, it wasn’t like my cousin and I disliked each other. We got along fine and didn’t fight or anything. We just weren’t close. There was nothing bringing us together outside of family stuff. Despite being such a short distance away, we never hung out on our own.

Eventually he did go off to college at Carnegie Mellon. I obviously followed two years later at Penn State. Instead of seeing each other 30 times a year, it was reduced to two or three at most. A few text messages were exchanged on birthdays, but that was about it. Although he does have a blog of his own, my cousin isn’t a big social media guy so keeping up through Facebook wasn’t an option.

A few summers ago I was in Pittsburgh for a Phillies-Pirates game and met up with him for a few minutes. The idea that I traveled six hours to watch baseball was completely foreign to him. Like always, we had different interests and were off pursuing our own things.

Both of us were doing pretty well for ourselves over the next two years. I was covering Penn State football, getting stories linked by ESPN while he was obtaining his Master’s degree in engineering from Carnegie Mellon and beginning work on a Ph.D program.

Then it all came crashing down hard. He dropped out of his Ph.D program in the summer of 2012, depressed and deciding he no longer had a passion for the research he was doing. After living in Pittsburgh off what he had saved from a graduate student stipend for almost a year, he returned home right around the same time as me last August when I left a full time job.

He texted me on my birthday in early October and talked about getting lunch the following week. I said that sounded good, but both of us kinda forgot about it a day later. We conversed on Thanksgiving like usual and saw each other once after that at a family dinner, but there was a six and a half month gap between that October 3rd text message and last Wednesday night.

I was having a rough day and fired something off to him. He responded within a minute saying he was tempted to ask me to meet him for a drink. “It sounds like you could use it.”

Philadelphia suburbs don’t offer the greatest choice of bars though so that became the next hurdle to clear when he asked if I knew of any places.

“There’s a nice sports bar by me that has a good beer menu, but it’s a bit of a hike for you and not exactly your cup of tea,” I answered back.

He said he’d make the drive and we were off. Well, almost. I told my dad where I was going. “You guys have never hung out before. This seems weird to me.”

I assured him those were indeed our plans, and now we were officially off. I got there first and snagged a table. Once he arrived, the next three hours were filled with nonstop conversation. I tried to explain Penn State culture to him the best I could while he reminisced about his time at Carnegie Mellon a bit.

Drinks and chips were ordered. We discussed our families, the flaws we saw in the world, his trip to England last fall and newly discovered interest in philosophy, the ending of my last relationship over a year ago, both leaving positions without anything else immediately lined up, and our desire to fully get back on our feet.

Even while occasionally checking our phones, silence was few and far between. It took two and a half decades, but we finally had something in common that we could relate to.

It may not have been an ideal thing to have, however it was good enough for us. See, we were both a little down, a little confused about life, but far from defeated. Most importantly, we both had ideas, waiting, hoping that the right place was willing to listen and agree with some while challenging others in a respectful way that would make us better. For the time being though, we could bounce thoughts off each other.

I used to think it could be difficult to maintain a prolonged conversation with my cousin. He argued passionately and sometimes refused to acknowledge legitimate counterpoints. The latter wasn’t the case last week.

We tipped our waitress an extra couple of bucks, figuring she deserved it after likely overhearing some odd conversations when walking over to check on us a few times. Around midnight, we walked outside into the cold, dark air.

The temperature had dropped significantly and I shivered a bit as some wind whipped through my quarter zip jacket and khaki shorts. My cousin wore a sport coat, jeans, and glasses. (I don’t have any updated pictures of him so this mediocre description will have to do)

If a random person saw us standing by our cars, they wouldn’t have known we were related. What they also wouldn’t have known though is that for the first time, I felt close with my cousin.

We’re not suddenly going to become best friends who text back and forth 45 times a day, but it’s amazing how one night can alter perspective.

I always thought my cousin had all the answers, I figured by now he would be working for IBM with a six-figure salary, running the hottest Silicon Valley startup while a bunch of eager interns ran around fetching him coffee, or lecturing college students as a professor like he once planned. Similar to me though, he was still trying to find his place in the world after previously believing he had arrived.

As I unlocked the door to my car and scrambled to turn on the heat, I flashed back to the drive there four hours ago. From my house, you make a right out of the neighborhood and go straight for about 15 minutes. The one caveat is that the bar is on your left and the road is a mini-highway, so you need to turn yourself around at a traffic light and backtrack about half a mile.

Overall though, it’s about as basic of a ride as you can get and requires little thinking other than keeping your eyes on the road.

As I sat at a traffic light still five or so minutes away, my mind started to wander. The Phillies game was on the radio, and while I knew the score and inning, I wasn’t really listening.

For the first time ever, I think my cousin needs me, I said to an empty car.

That thought would soon be validated. Well, sort of. Let’s try it again now a little differently.

For the first time ever, my cousin and I need each other. 

And You Are?

Greetings, folks.

If you made it beyond the headline and that two-word lede, 1) Are you insane? 2) Welcome to my new blog.

I plan to write a longer post that resembles a bio and provides a current update on my life, but to get the basic details out of the way, my name is Drew Balis. I am a 23-year old guy from suburban Philadelphia attempting to turn my passion for sports and social media into a career after graduating from Penn State last spring.

The majority of people I come across have called me a “nice person” or some variation of that. I don’t think that is particularly special as there are plenty of nice people throughout the world, but it can serve as a small confidence boost when you want it to.

I decided to start this blog because there was a two-year span where I more or less wrote every day, most notably for Onward State covering Penn State football.

The last eight months though have been quite different. The only writing I have done has been in a 140-character format, and I have that itch again.

Despite my aforementioned background, this blog will not be all about sports. I feel more comfortable writing about sports than most other topics, but I am not a one trick pony. (If you want some proof, here) After covering players, coaches, and teams on a regular basis, I’m looking forward to touching on some personal thoughts and opinions here.

I plan for one of my initial posts to be an aggregate list of my favorite websites that will also focus on news consumption and asking people how they Internet. On that list will definitely be some sports outlets that already have the digital market rather cornered. I may pop off after some select Phillies game or share some viral GIF that I come across, but my goal is not to reproduce their content.

At times I may appear a tad cynical and then come across as optimistic one post later. We’ll see where things go.

Before we get any further, I should probably explain the — tentative — name of this thing. My friends at Onward State call me “Balls.” The site’s founder, Davis Shaver (brilliant guy by the way) once told me that he actually thought my last name was indeed Balls during my first few months on staff. The soccer league that printed my name wrong on a championship trophy when I was in 9th grade was also under the same impression. #MakesYouThink

Anyway, my friend Grant suggested “Balls of Wisdom” and it was far better than “Da Crew’s Views” or any of my ideas.

If you think I sound a bit wishy-washy so far, that’s understandable. I don’t currently have a clear vision here, and projects without one normally are not too successful. If this is getting nowhere after a week or two maybe I’ll shut it down, but I’m confident it won’t get to that point.

Community management is very important to me. You shouldn’t have to pander to readers — especially not on a personal blog — but I can’t stand writers who act like you need them more than they need you. That’s not my style. It’s never been my style. It never will be my style, and that’s why I’m inviting you to share any feedback — positive or negative — that you want to provide.

There is no point in bringing potential readers to a mostly empty site, so my plan is to have a few different pieces of content up over the next day or two before I promote this on any type of social media. If you happen to find this beforehand, feel free to share your thoughts below (name suggestions, any topic you want me to touch on, etc.) I like to think of myself as a bit of a grammar and copy editing nerd, but of course I’m human, so if you spot a mistake don’t be shy about pointing it out.

In addition to the comments section, I’m on Twitter @drewBbalis where you can find me rambling about Philadelphia and Penn State sports, making occasional dumb jokes, and just in general interacting with my Internet friends.

I’ll have more for you soon.

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