Category: Feature

Playoff Day Three Recap

What a final day we had. The season couldn’t have ended on a better note. And for those of you couldn’t be around to see it, here’s what you missed:

Without even speaking about the games, this has to be my favourite moment of the season. A sea of purple, black, white/gold, traffic cone orange, and grey standing outside a mosque supporting one of our own. This scene alone shows how we’ve progressed as a league; we’re not a group of guys playing softball anymore. We’re a group of brothers who support one another on and off the field.

Now back to Nobleton… What a day this was. The Tigers came into the day having everyone think that one of the star players, Mahmood Kara, would land a helicopter from YYZ right into centre field and save the day. And while this didn’t happen, it didn’t look they needed him early. Filling in at the shortstop position, Abbasali Kermalli played a wonderful game vs. the Falcons, who struggled heavily on the mound in a Champsi on Champsi battle. Pitcher Altaf Champsi was on a complete tear, especially against the short-handed Bucks, dishing out strikes in his sleep. He finished that specific game with 64 pitches, 47 of them being strikes.

The 10AM game between the Wolves and Lions had major ramifications for the entire day, and while the general public were almost ignorant to that fact, both sides knew this was the championship game. The Lions came out smoking hot, putting up a decent lead on the Wolves, but captain Imran Virji (who was apparently at the cages just 20 minutes after this game) didn’t let his team panic. Like a prized fighter, they kept landing punches and just outlasted their opponent after seven rounds.

Dropping into the loser’s bracket had captain Miqdad Jaffer in a frenzy, and him and his team took vengeance out on the Tigers. OF Kaunain Taki served the Tigers squad with not one, but TWO, inside the park home runs, making him an early favourite for Playoff MVP (the umpire actually wanted us to give it to him regardless).

All this led them back to the Wolves, who were sitting around the diamond like they were Thanos. And just like that the fight scene began. The Lions came out with the same energy they did in the first game, except this time, the Wolves were dormant. It took all but 4 innings for this one to get out of hand, leaving the crowd at a loss for words when the umpire called the game due to a mercy. I had people calling/texting me (while I was scoring, mind you) trying to figure out what in the world happened to the Wolves. In complete sync with my comic-book reference, the Lions were heard saying ‘That’s how we avenge that game!’

That brought us all down to one game. Winner take all. Miqdad vs. Minhal. Shane vs. Abbas. Farhan vs. Mikael. What happened next was one of the most heart-stopping games we’ve seen. The Wolves looked like they were going to put the nail in the coffin early, until an amazing play took a turn for the worst. Imran Virji made a diving grab (who’s surprised?) and seemed to pop his shoulder as he landed. You could feel the Wolves’ mood drop in a heartbeat and the Lions took full advantage of it.

Bottom 7th. The score is 12-10. Lions had one more shot (they probably shouldn’t have had homefield throughout, but I digress). Up to bat? Kaunain Taki. Imran Nasser. Miqdad Jaffer. I can’t begin to tell you the angst we felt on the sideline thinking that of ALL people, Miqdad would be the game-winning run and on his birthday of all days… Kaunain singles. Imran singles. Miqdad pops out. Abbas Allidina brings in a run. And you felt it was over. A fielder’s choice brought up Moe Abdalla with the season on the line. And with a crack of a bat and the ball hitting the CF’s glove, it was over. The Wolves were the champs.

And in the end, after the long long day, there was a calm.

Things felt easy… Almost as easy as A-B-C.

The Scorer’s Table – Playoff Day One

In an unexpected edition of ‘The Scorer’s Table,’ Imran and Miqdad take on a CRAZY weekend and look forward to JMS’ future, one that doesn’t include them.

It’s been a whirlwind of a weekend, we had rain and a soaked field, then we had a few games salvaged and playable – all of this was followed by a day of 6 games that saw both the Owls and Eagles get eliminated. Were any of the results surprising to you and how do you think this new playoff format compares to the previous one?

I: I wouldn’t say I was surprised by any of the results, but two games that intrigued me the most were the Tigers-Wolves and Bucks-Eagles. As I told multiple Tigers players over the weekend, that game was their path to the finals and possibly the chip. They needed to rack up as many wins early as possible to keep their days short, and they weren’t able to do it. They came out flat and that disappointed me a bit. But it’s entirely possible they ran into a team of destiny. A lot of love for the Wolves on my end (Aadil should’ve gotten more love for MIP, btw) so I definitely wasn’t mad at the result.

While the final score didn’t surprise me, I was a little shocked that AR’s Bucks came out flat to start the playoffs. I thought losing Irfahn Khimji and Arif Hirji would hurt them later in the day, but after they were gearing up to play the day before, I expected better. The rest of the day, they didn’t disappoint with more than a few video game plays (shout out to AR for making my Instagram post a reality).

I’ve always been one to advocate for a playoff system that would leave a team(s) out of it from the start, so I’ll never be the biggest fan of a seven-team playoff. But moving forward, I see this majorly affecting the way a team drafts. Get handed one loss on playoff Saturday and you could be playing for a while. So I see the draft strategy shifting to younger players, even if they’re inexperienced.

M: I was most surprised at the way the Falcons and Wolves game started. That was a chance for Ali Reza Merali, the alpha wolf to really show his old squad what it took to win. They were tied going into the top of the 6th inning, but then just imploded. It showed that the Wolves could come back from a deficit, albeit small, but felt it was an opportunity the Falcons let slip from their fingers. They recovered nicely in their matchup against the Eagles, another surprise victory for some. I think they’re the team you don’t want to be matched up against, it’s easy to overlook them, and by the time you realize what’s happening it’s already….almost….too late. The Wolves woke up and responded, but the Eagles never could.

On paper the other game that was surprising was the Eagles vs Bucks, where in the first game they handled the Bucks, but in the second – 4th of the day for the Eagles – they never really looked like they were in it. Bucks will counter with the fact that they were in that first game with the Eagles for 4 innings, but couldn’t get their bats sorted, but how much stock can we really put into that. In real life, that Eagles team was depleted – Hussain Habib picked a fight with the fence, Shane Worthington hit a left handed single because of back problems (still pulled it), and Asad Hussain wasn’t able to stay until the end of the day. The Eagles seem discombobulated from the word “play”, and I’m not sure they really had a chance to survive at the end. So while it is surprising, watching it in person, I wasn’t surprised at the result.

The new playoff format is amazing and I hope it is here to stay. Judging by some of the videos making their rounds, it’s clear that the stands are full, people are engaged, and even team’s that have lost early – Tigers – still have just as much a chance to win it all as ever. It’s worked out better than anticipated and it’s nice that going into next week, 5 teams are still in it.

The winner’s bracket has largely formed the way most would predict, with a showdown between the Wolves and the Lions. While the bottom of the bracket has been unpredictable with the Bucks (even as the higher seed) eliminating the Eagles, and the Falcons were the ones that sent the Eagles to that eventual elimination game. The time off allows teams to be rested, have their injuries somewhat healed, and ready to play. With some players not accounting for the extra week, do you think the time off will hinder or hamper some of the teams?

I: Does it suck that we won’t see everyone at full strength? Yes. Were we extremely blessed this year with no other rainouts? Yes. Were all the players missing next week warned ages ago about the makeup day? Sadly, also yes. So while I don’t feel bad about a team missing players, it does suck to watch from the stands.

The team that had the most to benefit from the extra week was the Tigers; as I mentioned before, that was wasted away. I don’t see the extra week helping anyone else, honestly. While an extra week of practices helps out, it’s also another week of possible injuries and possible plans that were overlooked. Rumors are already swirling that the Wolves could be down a major player next week, someone they would’ve had for the entirety of the playoffs if not for the rain delay. Some players are already looking at contingency plans for their booked vacation plans; and others who planned ahead are gonna be watching from the sideline.

We’ll truly see which team/captain was more prepared and organized with their scheduling, since the makeup week was announced prior to the season. And sadly for all the other captains still alive in the race, we all know that title goes to the guy answering after me.

M: Hamper. Definitely hamper. People planned travel, and even though my team snap says that 14 players are available (it’s said that for months), we’re still missing one. I won’t say who, gotta let people discover that one on game day. The other part that I don’t really love is that two teams may feel like there’s no reason for them to show up anymore because they’ve been eliminated. I’m still hoping they’ll make it to the diamond for the environment.

There are cases where the time off will help, but I think the age argument is probably getting old (pun intended). While, it’s clear that the kids have more energy and can play longer – see Bucks vs. Eagles part II – I still think a team like the Tigers is now, more than ever, well equipped to keep their players in good shape for their run, but they’re going to need to win 5 games in a row to pull it off – so they need to be as fresh as they can be. However, even a team like the Wolves can benefit from the time off, as some players weren’t available but now will be. Perhaps the same could be true for others as well, I’m sure the Falcons will love the fact that Hasnainali Walli has a week to recoup from getting a throw in the back. He currently leads the playoffs in SLG % and is a perfect 5 for 5 at the plate. Maybe next week, Ali Reza Merali will have healed his black eye and it won’t look like Umair Ali and he have been going through a rough spell.

Anything is possible, but the argument can be made either way.

The matchup against the Wolves and Lions has been one that many people have been talking about and looked forward to. The current theory is that in the last time these two teams played, the Lions won, but did so only because of injuries sustained to both Minhal and Irfaan Jaffer. Whenever these two teams played during the season, the Lions came out on top. How do you see this one playing out and is it something you’re looking forward to? Do you think either of these two teams is the eventual champion or do you see another team making a push?

I: My motto for the playoffs: ABC. Anyone But Chuds. And really, I’m sure it’s the motto of more than half the league. But honestly, it’s looking like it’s his to lose. The Lions look like and are a well-oiled machine. Just by the simple fact that 14 players replied on Team Snap; that’s a tough feat in itself. Kaunain Taki looked like a Gold Glove in the outfield, Moe Abdalla and Ahsan Raza got their bats going, and Miqdad Jaffer didn’t do a damn thing defensively. If you can rely so little on your captain and still win heavy stakes games, you’re doing something right.

There’s just something about these Wolves that’s not letting me rule them out. Now if the rumours are true and that star player is out for next week, then all bets are off. But the energy and camaraderie that this team plays with is infectious. You can’t help but root for them. It almost feels like the Patriots-Eagles Super Bowl from a couple years back. The rigorous, professional, by the book team vs. the fun-loving and joking group of brothers. Do I expect the same result as that Super Bowl? I have no idea, but when in doubt, ABC.

P.S. I still got mad love for the Bucks. Watch out.

M: The Falcons and Tigers need 5 straight wins to win the championship. The Bucks need 4 straight wins to win the championship. The Wolves and Lions can do it in 2 straight or a loss followed by 3 straight wins. Now, I’m not saying it’s not possible, but whoever wins that 10AM game has the best chances to be the eventual champion. They would have the flexibility to lose once in the potential final.

I don’t think the Tigers have 5 straight wins in them – on what would be a day of back to back games, with an aging roster that has an average age of 40+. I have also heard rumours that they may not have either of their pitchers available. I don’t know if the Falcons have the ability to do it either, they didn’t even get 5 wins out of 14 games in the regular season. The Bucks, I won’t rule out – they have young legs and 4 wins in a day is not impossible. I worry because the margin is so tight, but any team that gets hot could theoretically come out victorious.

I can’t pick a winner, I’m one of the two teams that I believe have the best odds. I will say that if one of the others win it, they hands down deserve it – but it’s one heck of an uphill climb.

With the season wrapping up in just another 6 games, having been a part of this for 5 years – what do you think the future will hold now that you’re both not going to be a part of it?

I: There’s some things I won’t miss. Getting asked how many hits a player got… four hours after their game. Telling me I can’t score correctly. Running back and forth to grab lineups. Daily reminders about how I drove a truck through Maysum Jaffer’s face. But there’s too many I will miss. The trash talk. The brotherhood. The laughs. Seeing every player every week. The fact that I suddenly know 100+ more guys, just from some league that was a dream five years ago.

Coming back as a player, or maybe not even at all, will be an insane change. And I think that’s also what future players have to be ready for. When you lose someone like Miqdad and, to a lesser degree, myself, there’s always going to be a drop off. Every organization starts at the top and we’ve had a fearless, organized leader from the get go. But I have complete faith in the returning members of the admin and the new guys to bring in fresh and new ideas, as well as change a bit of the existing norm. All I ask is that you guys help them. We wouldn’t have been able to do half the things we did over five years without support, so continue to show that love.

Do I expect a more relaxed league next year? 100%. Do I think it’ll be more professional? No. But that might just be the fun of it. It may be better, it may be worse; but it’ll definitely be different.

M: I worry about things, it’s my natural state, it drives some people insane, but it’s what has made us as a team able to react and pivot as quickly as we have. As much as worrying is my natural state – I don’t worry that the team taking over will be able to handle 2020 and beyond, they can. I don’t worry that the players from this year and the ones who sign up for next will want to support the new team, they will. I don’t worry that the new team is capable of doing better than I ever did, they are. I don’t worry if the league will be fun and enjoyable for everyone, it will.

What I do worry about is that people will compare things. It took 5 years to get to where we are; it’s not going to go back to what it was 5 years ago, but it will look and operate differently and that’s ok. They will do some things much better, other things may be worse, and that too is ok. The hardest part about this role wasn’t the job or the work to do. It was the constant undermining that happens behind the scenes, the plethora of opinions after the fact, the consistent second guessing, it can be exhausting. I’m asking you from the bottom of my heart to give this team a chance to make mistakes. If you do, what happens next is a chance to have a league that our children and grandchildren can one day take over and point to as a beacon of what brings and keeps them together on the path of Islam and the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.). If you don’t, then…well…I worry.

The Scorer’s Table – Wolves vs. Falcons

On this final edition of the ‘The Scorer’s Table,’ Imran and Miqdad take on the final matchup of the weekend and check in on the league-leading Najaf Lions.

After an absolutely incredible season on the offensive end, many are left to wonder if Falcons’ captain Umair Ali will claim the MVP title. The debate that’s sweeping the league is whether or not an ‘MVP’ can be on a last-place team. Can a player be SO valuable to their team and still not attain any level of success in the regular season? If Umair isn’t your MVP, who is?

I: If you decide to skim this over and run to Miqdad’s response, I really don’t blame you. But for me, the Most Valuable player doesn’t always play for the best team. The best team is usually filled with better players across the board. You’re not the most valuable because you’re great AND you have good teammates.
LeBron James still deserves that 2015 Finals MVP (don’t @ me). And if there’s ever a case to compare someone’s performance to LBJ’s, it’s Umair’s 2018 JMS season. He told us from the start he would be coming out better than ever, and he isn’t a liar. If you wanna talk about most valuable… Umair made up 18% of his team’s hits, 64% of his team’s home runs, and 34% of his team’s RBIs. Before Miqdad anoints his teammate MVP, Imran Nasser made up 14% of his team’s RBIs with only four fewer ABs than Umair.
And yes, defense counts. Has Umair been as shut down as usual? No. Did he lap everyone offensively? Clearly. Just give the man his due and let’s keep it rolling.

M: So I read Imran’s opinion, and I’ve heard others. But to be honest, I think the only word I can use to describe that opinion is synonymous with a cat. (If you know, you know). He wants to use stats to make his case. So let’s present some stats – Noor Zia makes up 19.5% (more than Umair’s 18%) of his team’s hits does that make him the MVP? Not in my mind, his team is 6th. Yes, Umair had a prolific season – take him off the Falcons and what place do they finish – probably worse than they did, except that they finished in last. I just don’t see it. Yes, obviously Imran Nasser has my vote. He’s the best player on the 1st place team, hits for high average, and plays the most important position defensively at well enough a level that he’s in consideration for a gold glove. To me it’s a no brainer, but I don’t get to make those decisions. Or do I…?

If you didn’t know any better, the Wolves look like the hottest team in the league right now. Over the span of the season, they’ve dominated their competition, leading the league in run differential. And while their season hasn’t been easy, it looks like they should rampage through the Falcons. What has been the secret to the Wolves’ success this season, even through all the injuries?

I: The one constant in the entire equation, Mikael Ratansi. Is it a coincidence that he also played all 14 games? No chance. Mik showed the league the key to being the perfect assistant captain; it doesn’t have to be for the cameras. You just come and lead by example even when the captain isn’t there.

Not only has he been the only guarantee for the Wolves week in and week out, but he’s been playing the best he ever has. He’s posting the best batting average and OBP of his career. Were it not for a couple of performances at the mound (and we all know why), he could be the favourite for Pitcher of the Year. With the way he’s handled adversity and a team that’s consistently hampered by injures, he might have unknowingly auditioned for JMS future commissioner.

M: So after spending some time with Imran Virji in Moncton, he pointed out a grave injustice to me. He doesn’t get a lot of love in the articles. Barely any mention at all apparently. So let’s change that. While Mikky is the heart of this Wolves squad, Virji is its soul. Let’s talk about a guy that gives it his all on every single play he’s out there. Does he need to dive for every single ball, good God no – but that’s who he is, all out or not at all. Second, the man was on the DL, but still came to every game. He would’ve played with the cast on if he thought it was possible, but he’s still there making sure his team knows he’s got their back. He keeps things light, fun, yet intense. It’s the perfect combination and it works for the Wolves, they play together and that’s really what it takes to win. The only time they really lose is when they beat themselves.

It’s 1:30PM on Saturday afternoon. You’ve slept all day (Asad still thinks you’re up early) and the first thing you hear is that the Falcons beat the Wolves in the first round. What has to happen in this game for that to become a reality?

I: First thing I’d ask honestly is if Minhal played. And with him being hampered in reality, the Falcons must be licking their chops that the Wolves could be down such a key player. Next thing I’d ask would be if Ali Reza Merali and Damien Ramnauth are finally back. Seeing Cheema in a Falcons jersey is like seeing Dwyane Wade in a Bulls jersey; it makes sense, but there’s something just not right about the picture.

Let’s do a blind player comparison:
Player A: 46 ABs, 18 RBIs, 2 HRs, 0.587 AVG, 0.604 OBP.
Player B: 43 ABs, 20 RBIs, 1 HR, 0.605 AVG, 0.638 OBP.

Player A is the man in question: Cheema. Player B? That’s Abbas Allidina. And while he’s playing really well this season, an assistant captain should be outperforming a guy like Abbas. Cheema has long been a favourite player of mine; here’s hoping that going against his old team will bring out some of that extra fire. He’s had HORRIBLE luck with injuries, but look for Cheema to play a little loose this weekend.

M: It’s actually not that far a reality. What has to happen is that the Falcon’s need to show up as a collective unit. Hussein Allidina needs to pitch the game of his life and not start out the playoffs with 7 walks, Damien Ramnauth needs to bring the same swagger he had in the playoffs last year – puts on glasses, where you at bro? And probably most needed, these guys need to believe they can actually do it. The beauty of this season is that any and every team can win it. Regardless of who you are, you’ve won, you’ve lost, and it’s usually been a close game. The Falcons are a -7 this year, for the whole year. They have a 4-8-2 record. They’re a couple lucky breaks from a championship. Maybe they just need a couple of those breaks to go their way.

While the opponent may be unknown, the Lions have shown us more than enough during the regular season for us to claim that they should be the favourites for the title going into this weekend. Making that huge trade before the deadline most definitely added a jolt into the team and it showed; they ended the season on a six-game win streak. What’s holding back the Lions from running the table and going home Sunday as champions?

I: Miqdad. That’s all that’s holding them back. You ask why? How many times has the team lost this season? Three. And how many have they lost without him? ZERO. The team without him is on pace to go undefeated. So why mess with that? Stay home, Miqdad.

But on a serious note, injuries may be the thing holding back this team from collecting their rings on Sunday. League chatter tells us that both Abbas Nasser and Ranko Cupovic are hurting big time, and while they’ll most definitely play through it, what happens when the day drags on? With Mehboob Ajwani ineligible to play this weekend, that puts a lot more pressure on the bottom half of that team. Moe Abdalla, Kaunain Taki, Farhan Ratansi… That’s two serviceable players and Farhan. Even the reserves could get some run. Super sub Zuhair Ebrahim (did you really expect me to bash my dad?) and Shaan Shamji could be on call at any time.
In the end, the games are all best-of-one, but with the new format, the chip will go to whichever team lasts the longest. Limping into the weekend ain’t a good look, even for our regular season champs.

M: You don’t touch the trophy until you’ve earned it. And you don’t talk about the road to the end until you’ve done it. It’s the regular season. It doesn’t mean anything. Being the home team throughout and starting later on Saturday is nice, but that’s all we have so far. All season long the mantra was just to get better and make sure everyone was ready for the playoffs, but we – The Lions – haven’t proven anything. Our 3 losses and 1 tie have come against the 5th, 6th, and 7th ranked teams. So really transitive property says that everyone can beat us.

So what’s holding the Lions back from going home Sunday as the champions? Ask me again if we win it, until then – we haven’t done anything yet.