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Welcome to the summer sports doldrums

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It’s the best time for patriotic explosions but the worst time for sports. July. The NBA playoffs just ended in disappointment for everyone rooting against the Heat. Football is months away, hardly on the horizon. The spelling bee was months ago. “What’s the point?” you might think to yourself. I’m here to resuscitate your summer, get you through the down days until August brings us more fully legal combat. Basically, sports passed out in the aisle, and I’m here with the defibrillator. Your playbook:

Watch some baseball. The last bastion of traditional American sport, baseball is still around in the summer. While it makes for a dull Sportscenter, it’s not just a sport for purists. Baseball’s got the best overtime format around, as extra innings are the purest way to settle the game and there’s nothing more exciting as a fan than getting wrapped up in a marathon clash. Though some criticize the intermittent pace as lagging behind some more exciting sports, baseball’s lethargy is the perfect pace for summer. It’s kicking back with your feet up and opening a beer and a conversation without missing a beat. Watching it is relaxing, the offseason golf of the sports world.

Read a great sports book. There’s seriously so much great sports literature that I don’t know where to start. “Ball Four” is Jim Bouton‘s quintessential peek inside the clubhouse, a must read for baseball fans. If you identify with a lack of athletic success, check out Mark Titus‘ “Don’t Put Me in, Coach,” a breezy journey through years of riding pine for Ohio State basketball. Basketball fans could also go with fantastic journalist David Halberstam‘s season-long profile of the Portland Trail Blazers in “Breaks of the Game.” If you want to examine small-town spirit, a place rallying behind a unifying athletic force, revisit the fashion-addicted Buzz Bissinger‘s “Friday Night Lights.” If you’re into oral histories, retellings of history through exhaustive interviewing in the voices of those who experienced it, try “Loose Balls,” Terry Pluto‘s history of the wacky ABA. Or for the particularly daring sports fan, there’s always the option to eschew your chosen genre in favor of reading some classic or contemporary literary fiction. Brush up on your “Great Gatsby” 1 or read some critically acclaimed tome about zombies by Colson Whitehead or Benjamin Percy. Or model a summer reading list after Ken’s.

Stream ESPN “30 for 30″ documentaries. If you don’t have Netflix, what are you doing with your life? Seriously, why? You get your first month free and then for the paltry sum of eight bucks a month, you have access to tons of great TV shows and some decent movies. That’s, like, an appetizer at Applebee’s a month. Get Netflix. Some of the best stuff on Netflix, besides TV shows, is in the documentary section. For the sports fan, summer is the perfect time to engage in the stories of sports, look between the lines at interesting characters or circumstances. A lot happens off of the field, and the “30 for 30″ series does a great job marrying directors with fascinating passion projects related to the world of sports. Try Chris Herron‘s tough life in “Unguarded,” soccer and drugs linked in “The Two Escobars,” a heartbreaking tale of success splitting up friends in “Once Brothers,” how poorly athletes manage money in “Broke” or the enigmatic Ricky Williams in “Run Ricky Run.” I don’t think you can go wrong with anything from the series, and it’s a great look at the true nature of athletics, at more than just the game.

Prep for your fantasy draft. Fantasy sports are serious business. Usually, there’s a little bit of cash involved, but the real prize is being able to lord victories over old buddies. Following in the tradition of Arian Foster, Victor Cruz, Alfred Morris, and countless others, there’s serious production to be had for dirt cheap in the later rounds. Anyone can have a passable season checking out cheat sheets the night before, but if you really want an edge in a serious league, you’re going to have to work for it. I wouldn’t draft in a league I cared about without learning about deep sleepers and advanced metrics at Rotoviz, running many iterations of mock drafts from different positions in the draft order, and consulting with rankings from a trusted site. You can do most, if not all of that, at FantasyPros. And that’s the bare minimum; if you don’t have your carefully cultivated and oft-revised Excel spreadsheet with you on draft day, you’re probably not going to beat the people who do. Know Zac Stacy? Mohammed Sanu? DeAndre Hopkins? It’s summer down time, you have a lot of hours and a lot to learn.

Go see an independent film at an old theater. In an age of irony, there’s something cool about gripping on to no-frills nostalgia. A chance to have a genuine experience is attending your local independent cinema and seeing something cool. Read reviews from the many film festivals that keep independent movies thriving or go in cold without researching. Usually these shows are cheaper than dropping 12 bucks to see a big-budget with a rehashed plot, and there’s a lot of innovation and ideas that power small-scale film. From feel-good critical darlings like “Searching for Sugar Man” to projects of auteurs like “Amour,” “Holy Motors,” and “Upstream Color,” you’re supporting the art a bit closer to its core. It’s like going to the farmer’s market: If you come in with an open mind, you can get fresh produce for cheap while having a conversation and maybe building a relationship with the farmer who grew it, stimulating the local economy. If you like movies and want to see good ones being made, dive into independent film.

Watch the Gold Cup (or the International Champions Cup or the MLS All-star game). As a soccer buff, I’d like to invite you into my world while you’re looking for something new for entertainment. Though the Confederations Cup, which ended Sunday in a 3-0 Brazil thumping of tired Spain, was the premier foot-centric competition of the summer, there’s still great soccer action to be had. The Gold Cup is a tournament for North and Central American teams that usually features a USA v. Mexico clash. Mexico has taken the last two, winning in 2011 in a comeback 4-2 victory over the Stars and Stripes, and the tournament serves as a good primer leading into the 2014 World Cup. 2

Remember the World Football Challenge, where the best of Europe came stateside to play in front of packed stadiums for hefty paydays? This year, that manifests itself in the inaugural International Champions Cup, a more competitive tournament-style format featuring some of Europe’s finest . . . and the LA Galaxy. It’s going down in late-July and early August, and if the teams take it seriously, could turn out to be the surprise athletic event of the summer. The problem is that it’s the European preseason, and many of the teams will probably be out of form or testing out young players and new acquisitions.

I’m not going to suggest tuning into the MLS, even though the quality of play is noticeably better than it was a few years ago, because I think it’ll be too hard of a sell. God forbid America isn’t best at something. But I will tell you to watch July 31st’s MLS All-Star game against Italian club Roma. Many criticize the format, saying mismatched MLS players can’t develop the requisite chemistry to compete with a European side in a single match. Last season, however, the MLS side defeated Chelsea 3-2, a club that was coming off the European championship that crowned them de facto world champion.

Eat 50 cent soft-serve. Most of you live by a McDonalds and a Burger King, or at least one of them. When they’re not trying to tighten their grasp on world domination through food supply, many of the local McDs and BK Lounges run summer specials on ice cream, proffering cones for just half a dollar. Sure, you’re missing dudes pounding their chests and colliding with one another, but much of the malaise can be assuaged with delicious vanilla ice cream. At that price, it seems silly not to make a slight detour whenever you’re out and about, and delight in one of life’s simpler pleasures.

Notes:

  1. The one that’s been sitting on that shelf since junior year of high school.
  2. That time you get really into international soccer for a month and never follow up.

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