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Saturday, December 18, 2010

When I grow up...

On behalf of all of the weekend athletes around the world, I'd like to thank Tom Fenton for paving the way. Who is Tom Fenton? On December 16, 2010, Tom Fenton became the Phoenix Coyotes back-up goalie.

As the Phoenix Coyotes were preparing to face the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, their starting goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov, was stricken with the flu. Hours before the puck was to be dropped, Phoenix didn’t have time to call their minor league affiliate to acquire a fill-in goalie.

The Coyotes Head of Pro Scouting, Frank Effinger, took his search to the streets of New York, scouring the city (and state) for anyone that had experience goaltending. He found Tom Fenton of Purchase, N.Y. Luckily, after ignoring Effinger’s first couple calls because he was getting a haircut, Fenton quickly called him back. Effinger instructed him to get his butt down to MSG as soon as possible.

Fenton, 26, is currently a graduate student and hockey coach from Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y. Fenton’s goaltending experience consists four years with the American International College in Springfield, Mass. He won 14 of 81 games with a 3.87 goals-against average, including a 1-12-1 record with a 3.60 GAA in the 2008-09 season.

I don’t think Bryzgalov’s starting position will be in jeopardy after he recovers from the flu.

Sure, it’s only one game and Fenton didn’t even get to play in the game, but who cares?! He lived his dream for one night, putting on an official NHL jersey, warming up on the ice and sitting on the same bench as his heroes. Later asked, how much money he would make for his services, he responded, “Oh, I don’t know; I just signed the paper. I don’t care if there is anything involved there.” Fenton gives hope to all of the weekend athletes out there, that believe they still have what it takes to make it!

While growing up in Chester, N.Y., I had only one dream. That dream was to play for the New York Yankees. After Little League games, my dad and I would meet my best friend, Gary Ciuffetelli, and his dad at the Chester Diner. Over a cup hot chocolate and a piece of pie, I would pronounce that one day, I would be playing for the New York Yankees. It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.

To reach my goal of playing for the Yankees, I put in countless hours at the gym and hitting thousands and thousands of baseballs off a tee into a homemade net in the garage. Unfortunately, despite my extreme work ethic and determination, you can’t teach 6’3” height or flick a switch to run a time of 6.6 seconds in the 60 yard dash.

After high school, I decided to focus on being a student and having fun at a bigger, more prominent university rather than playing for a smaller school in the middle of nowhere, just for the sake of playing college baseball. But to this day, the little boy from Chester, N.Y., still burns deep inside of me. I still believe I can hit that 390 foot home run off the scoreboard against Hoggard High (see picture above); I still believe I can walk onto the mound and strike out the side against Jacksonville High.

I often receive calls from friends I’ve made while playing throughout the years; we’ll reminisce about the great times we had playing together or the battles against one another. Even my dad at 49 years young, still loves the game, often showing off his Tom Seaver-esque pitching mechanics in front of the mirror (I’m guilty too). As we get older, we don't lose that passion; we all wish we could play the game we love, one more time.

That being said, I am proud to announce my return to baseball!

As a lifetime New York Yankees fan, I will grant General Manager Brian Cashman and Director of Professional Scouting Billy Eppler the first opportunity to acquire my services for the upcoming season. Though my strength is hitting, I realize there is a significant hole within the rotation, thus making my ability to pitch, valuable to the organization.

Mr. Cashman and Mr. representatives and I look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Boston's Offseason Grade: Incomplete

Since winning two world championships in four years, ending the 86 year championship drought, the Boston Red Sox became an old, unproductive team. The combination of age, injuries and lack of talent resulted in a mediocre product on the field. Through the diligence of Theo Epstein, the best general manager in baseball, Boston is back.

Epstein wasted no time to land one of the most underrated, best all-around players in baseball. Epstein traded three average prospects for All-Star first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez. Before next season, the organization had better reinforce the ‘Green Monster,’ because he will be hammering it on a nightly basis. His ability to go to all parts of the field with power cannot be emphasized enough; he is a great hitter and is an early favorite to win the 2011 MVP award. The addition of Gonzalez will also have a “Teixeira Effect,” for the Red Sox; the Boston infield will shrink with an above-average defender on the corner, enabling the rest of the infielders to cover more ground and play at a higher-level.

Now that Boston has a formable middle of the lineup with Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Gonzo, they needed a guy to get on base, someone that is arguably the most explosive player in the game. Welcome to Boston, Carl Crawford. Crawford possesses more pure ability that anyone in all of baseball. Not only is he a terror on the base paths, Crawford is maturing into a great hitter with notable power. If he and Jacoby Ellsbury are able to stay healthy, Boston will be scoring at a record pace. Crawford’s arrival to Boston will have a similar impact in the outfield as Gonzo has in the infield, providing Gold Glove presence. Bottom-line…speed kills.

With the phenomenal improvements to his program, Epstein still has work to do before pitchers and catchers report to spring training on February 14th. Boston’s rotation is not good. Clay Bucholz is the future of their rotation with electric stuff, and Jon Lester is a warrior on and off the field. But that’s it.

Josh Beckett is all huff and puff. The one time tough guy, who would be able to reach back and throw it by you, is finished. I recommend he lose the eight Phiten necklaces, because they aren’t working. John Lackey also tries to intimidate the opposing hitters with a snarling look upon his face. John, you look constipated; just throw the ball. Dice-K is another bad major league Japanese pitcher. He has never proved that he can stay healthy, nor be a reliable option when he is.

Though Epstein is the savior of the franchise, he should have done anything to sign pitcher Cliff Lee. “The Nation,” will be temporarily satisfied that the New York Yankees failed to buy the lefty, leaving them without a clue in the Bronx. Nevertheless, Boston still does not have a championship level rotation. Lee would have fit perfectly with the ruff-neck, self-proclaimed idiots. If you’ve heard him speak, you would understand.

They will considerably regret not signing Lee. Lee has proved time after time again that he is great when it matters and is not afraid of anything or anybody. He’s walked into Yankee Stadium, the biggest sports stage in the world, and embarrassed the underachieving Yankees. Gonzalez and Crawford will help win games from April to September, but Lee would have won games in October. If they did sign Lee, the Red Sox and the city of Boston would have begun planning its World Series victory parade. Now, they still have work to do; the clock’s ticking.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is it 2011 yet?

Sunday evening, following my weekly nap during the dreadful Carolina Panthers game, I found myself on the edge of my seat once again. It was neither a football game nor an update from the MLB Winter Meetings, but golf.

One year after Tiger Woods’ life and career came crashing down, I was once again captivated by the man in red. Following the infamous Thanksgiving car crash and alleged 9-iron to the face that would set off a domino effect in Tiger’s life, I questioned if we would ever witness such greatness on the golf course and if so, appreciate his gift.

Tiger’s inappropriate behavior off the course has been well-documented and talked to ad nauseum. In the future, he will have to explain to his children about why mommy and daddy don’t live in the same house and what he did. No matter how many major championships he wins, he will forever be remembered for his actions off the course.

Following the final round and playoff hole of the Chevron World Golf Championship, I considered my resurgent interest in PGA Golf. I took a few days to think, if it was okay to be so enthralled by this individual and a game? I came to a conclusion…

I don’t care about what he did. I do NOT condone what Tiger did, but as an amateur public course player and fan of the game, I thoroughly enjoy watching him play golf. When Tiger is on top of his game, there is nobody better. His ability to perform with a golf club at such an extraordinary level can only be compared to Michael Jordan with a basketball. I want to watch and be entertained by the best of the best, and Tiger is still the best and most exciting golfer in the world.

Tiger would eventually lose on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to the surprise golfer of the year, Graeme McDowell. The putts McDowell sank in the playoff and preceding 18th hole to win the tournament were extremely difficult; he most definitely earned his eighth career PGA Tour victory.

By Tiger-standards, the 2010 golf year was horrible, on and off the course. But his swing and play has improved, and it will continue to improve going into the 2011. The finalization of his divorce will pay dividends, as he will not longer have that cloud of distraction over his head. This will enable him to focus on golf while also allowing him to live his life however he chooses going forward. I hope the rest of the PGA Tour players enjoyed 2010 because starting in 2011, it’s on and Tiger is on the prowl.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

October is finally here

As the Major League Baseball Playoffs begin today, several questions remain unanswered. Will the defending champion New York Yankees rebound from a poor finish, figuring out their pitching woes? Despite winning the American League West, will the Texas Rangers be a surprise contender? Can the Atlanta Braves continue the magical ride and emotional quest for their leader, Manager Bobby Cox? What we do know is that the best professional sports playoff season is finally here!

It’s no secret that the Yankees have a significant weakness going into the playoffs. CC Sabathia has been the only consistent member of the pitching staff throughout the season; Sabathia is likely to win his second (first with New York) Cy Young Award. Even Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of all-time, has faltered recently, failing to convert save opportunities. Without the cut to his cutter, Mo is a very average aging closer.

Unfortunately for Texas, Hall of Famer and new-owner, Nolan Ryan will not be available to pitch during the division series versus’ the Tampa Bay Rays. The trade acquisition of lefty Cliff Lee from the Seattle Mariners has been successful thus far, but for the Rangers to win their second postseason game in their history, they will need for their lineup to get healthy fast. Outfielder Josh Hamilton announced to the world at the home run derby at Yankee Stadium that he was officially back from the brink, but this is his opportunity to become an iconic figure in baseball.

The Atlanta Braves are this year’s darling pick of the postseason. This being Manager Bobby Cox’s last season, he retires after 20 years on the bench with a young, exciting group of players, led by outfield phenom Jason Heyward. But if Atlanta is to continue this magical quest for their manager, they will need their pitching staff be great. They have the guys to do it, but unfortunately they’ll have to go through Philadelphia which will not end pretty for the Atlanta faithful; that is if they even get past the San Francisco Giants.

The ALDS will conclude with the Rangers surprising the favorite Rays and the Yankees destroying the Minnesota Twins. David Price is an absolute stud and in my opinion, the best pitcher in baseball. I have not seen a fastball with as much movement and violent force as his since "The Big Unit," Randy Johnson. I don’t trust the rest of their staff though, leading me to believe that they will not be able to cover up the holes in their free-swinging lineup. The Twins have no chance against the Yankees. As Jay Z would say, “On to the next one.”

The NLDS will conclude with the Giants sending Cox to retirement early and the Phillies having their way with the Cincinnati Reds. The Braves are an emotional favorite, but for the Giants to win their way into the playoffs, momentum is clearly on their side. It also helps that they have “The Freak,” Tim Lincecum, as well as a viable number two and three starters. In the playoffs, it’s all about pitching. The Reds are the surprise of the year, but I just haven’t seen enough from them to convince me that they will be able to compete. The scariest guy on their team is 105 mph flame-thrower/set-up man Aroldis Chapman, whom will not even have the chance to even get in the game. The Phillies are hot and have done this before; they will sweep the Reds.

I could see the ALCS going seven games. The combination of the Rangers having home field advantage and the Yankees having to use Sabathia two, maybe three times will favor Texas. But after Lee, their starting pitching is suspect. This being the playoffs, a completely different ballgame, the Texas staff will not be able to handle the heat, as the Bombers will hit their way back into the World Series. Look for a huge series from first baseman and former Ranger, Mark Teixeira.

The Giants will be a tougher than the Reds were, but in the end, even their strong pitching won't be enough. The Phillies are just too good at the right time. Loaded at every position, this hard nosed group will march into the World Series looking for revenge against the Yankees.

Whether you want to believe it or not, this is the series with the two best teams in baseball. The Yankees and Phillies weren’t always the most consistent teams throughout the 2010 season, but they are the most talented and will show up when it matters. The taste of champagne is too sweet to forget, as they both will battle through a seven game series.

With the addition of Roy Halladay, he will win two, maybe three games for his new team in the series. He is not intimidated by the New York stage or pinstripe mystique. Newcomer Roy Oswalt should pitch well as well. He is as tough as they come and will be amped up to pitch for a contender. Second baseman Chase Utley will not get a pitch to hit; this guy has no conscience and will hurt somebody if given the opportunity to swing.

Alex Rodriguez will quiet the haters and doubters once again, performing at the highest level. Count on Cy Young quality pitching from Sabathia and vintage Andy Pettitte when its needed most. Despite the worst season of his Hall of Fame career, Derek Jeter will announce to the world that he’s not done yet. Never count out or doubt the captain. Jeter was born to play, lead, excel and win in October/November.

But without further ado…

The New York Yankees will win their 28th championship.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Boys of Fall

With a big win from Wake Forest on Thursday night, the 2010 college football season had officially begun. This is a highly anticipated season, as many teams throughout the country believe they will be hoisting the crystal football at seasons end.

Alabama will rightfully begin the season ranked #1 in the country following their championship run from a year ago. The Crimson Tide returns the majority of their championship team and Head Coach Nick Saban is back at the helm. In week two, they will welcome Penn State to Tuscaloosa and the SEC is as dangerous as ever. Arkansas, Auburn and Georgia continue to improve, as they attempt to dethrone Alabama and Florida for SEC supremacy. Simply, the Tide will roll out quietly this season.

Florida will excel despite losing Superman, otherwise known as Tim Tebow. Quarterback Jonathon Brantley will be a star. Despite the colossal impression Tebow has left on Florida and all of college football, the combination of Brantley’s ability to throw the ball down the field and the Olympic sprinters on the outside, provides Florida with a scary new feature. Look for the Gators to be playing in the Sugar Bowl or more likely, the National Championship.

Regardless of a preseason #2 ranking and Heisman hype swirling around quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State will come up short once again. In week two, the Buckeyes better not bring their championship level play (they consistently choke in big games) into the game against Miami, or else they will be dominated up and down the field. Quarterback Jacory Harris of Miami is a big time player. If he is able to cut down on turnovers, the Canes will be dangerous throughout the season.

Ohio State will face a much improved and experienced Big Ten Conference. The team to watch for in the Big Ten is Wisconsin; if able to stay healthy, the Badgers will be booking tickets to Pasadena.

Michigan will surprise the doubters throughout the season. They will not compete for a national championship or even a Big Ten title this year, but Head Coach Rich Rodriguez is assembling the necessary pieces to be successful within his system. In time, the Wolverines will be national contenders once again, but it all depends on if the Michigan boosters can wait that long.

Out west, the Trojans are on the hunt. With everything to play for but a bowl game, USC is looking to make a loud statement. Under the direction of controversial, new Head Coach Lane Kiffin, the Trojans will “Fight on,” and win the conference in convincing fashion. The “experts” predict that the PAC 10 has caught up to USC following a down year. In reality, USC runs out a team of players that will be playing on Sunday; not many teams can or will compete with the Trojans.

Boise State will play for and win the National Championship. They return 20 of 22 starters from last years undefeated team, which includes the soon-to-be Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Kellen Moore. Moore has always impressed me with his composure and natural ability, but after the performance he provided the nation on Monday night against a good Virginia Tech team, I as well as the rest of the country are convinced; the kid is a stud. No, I am not living in the moment and riding the bandwagon from Monday night; this team is loaded all over the field, but most importantly, they have the swagger and confidence of a champion.

This is going to be one of the best years ever in college football. The passion brought to the field every Saturday is truly exciting. Look for many upsets and surprises along the way, but count on a great season full of amazing stories.

In case opening weekend snuck up on you, here’s a video that will put you in a football state of mind. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Just win

“Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next.”
- George M. Steinbrenner III

New York Yankees principal owner George M. Steinbrenner III passed away last Tuesday morning at his home in Tampa, Fl from a massive heart attack; he was 80 years old. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, children Hank, Hal, Jessica and Jennifer, several grandchildren and most importantly, Yankees Universe.

In the wake of Mr. Steinbrenner’s passing, I began writing about his infamous business practices throughout his tenure as owner. As I greeted each of the popular criticisms of “The Boss” and the Yankees, I came to a realization. Regardless if the Yankees organization is right or wrong when it comes to the usage of their resources and finances, it would not matter. Haters will be haters, and jealously is a crutch for the weak.

As a businessman, Mr. Steinbrenner would not settle on being average or good. His business and true love was the New York Yankees. He did anything and everything that was necessary to be as successful as possible. For example, you must do whatever it takes to care and provide for your family’s well-being. If not, you are not doing your best nor your job. Mr. Steinbrenner not only had a responsibility to his family, but the responsibility of Yankees Universe.

He understood that the fans of the Yankees around the world deserved an organization whose goal was not only to play into October, but win championships. During his 37 years of ownership the Yankees won seven World Series Championships. The 11 American League Pennants and 16 division titles would be an incredible accomplishment for any other team to celebrate, but in New York it’s a lost season and opportunity.

"The Boss" leaves us with many impressions from his larger than life being. The most lasting characteristic we will remember him by is his will to be the best. As clearly stated above by Mr. Steinbrenner, winning was everything. His tenacity and drive to win could not be matched by anyone, as he directed his troops in a General Patton-esque manner. But it was a two-way street; he demanded the most from each of his employees as he would for himself.

Mr. Steinbrenner exemplified the meaning of a Yankee: greatness. From day one in 1973, his message to his team was that he was going to bring back the pride, tradition, honor and championship glory to the once proud franchise. Over time, he brought this mentality and way of life back to the Bronx. Through the spirit of Mr. Steinbrenner, Yankees Universe will continue to reign as the pinnacle of all professional sports.

Rest in peace Mr. Steinbrenner, and thank you for all you have done for our organization. You will truly be missed.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The voice of my childhood

His voice resonated throughout my household as a child. My father and I would impersonate some of his most famous calls. Among our favorites were, “Now batting…number two…Derek Jee-Tah…number two,” and “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Yankee Stadium.”

Sunday, July 11, 2010, the baseball community lost its voice. The New York Yankees Public Address Announcer, Bob Sheppard, died at his home in Baldwin, NY at the age of 99.

Growing up in Chester, NY, I became a devout New York Yankees fan. As a young baseball player, my dream was to have my name announced by Mr. Sheppard as I walked into the batter box of Yankee Stadium. While playing in my backyard or in the school yard with friends, we would often announce ourselves in a Sheppard-esque manner. My personalized call was, “Now batting…number 23…Robert Demetrious…number 23.” Unfortunately, due to the retirement of Don Mattingly’s number (my favorite player), I was unable to become a professional baseball player.

As I have stated in previous blog entries, my grandfather (to whom this blog is dedicated), introduced me to the tradition, the pride, and the honor of the New York Yankees. Mr. Sheppard represented these three attributes as well as anyone throughout his life. He is a true Yankee.

Throughout his 56 years of service behind the mic, Mr. Sheppard brought joy to millions, leaving a legacy that will forever stand the test of time. The vividness, pitch, tone and clarity of his distinguished voice will never fade. Though he is no longer with us on earth, his soul, his spirit, and his true love for the game of baseball will live on within all of us forever. We have been blessed to have the opportunity of listening to “The Voice of God” for 56 wonderful years.

Mr. Sheppard is not retiring though; he’s actually calling a game tonight. The home team’s lineup includes Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Thurman Munson. His opening statement will be along the lines of, “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Great baseball field in the sky.”

Have fun Mr. Sheppard, and thank you for being the voice of my childhood.

I have included a link to a youtube video tribute to Bob Sheppard. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

2010 NBA Finals Preview

This year’s much anticipated NBA Finals features one of the most heated and storied rivalries in all of sports. The Boston Celtics will attempt to dethrone the Los Angeles Lakers for league supremacy. This will be the twelfth meeting between the two teams in the Finals; Boston leads the all-time Finals series 40-27 with nine championship titles to the Lakers two against one another.

The Celtics, whom have been considered significant underdogs in each of the previous series’, are prepared to recapture NBA glory for the second time in three years. They’ll have a chance to denounce the Los Angeles again, as the Lakers were the team the defeated two years ago.

The Celtics return the same starting lineup from the ’08 championship team. Once referred to as the “Big Three,” Boston now has a fourth member of the band. Point guard Rajon Rondo has established himself as an elite player in this league. With his blinding speed and quickness, staying in front of him on defense is close to impossible. Even if you give him space to disallow him from beating you off the dribble, it allows him to spread the court and involve his teammates. And if necessary, he’ll knock down the medium-range jump shot without hesitation.

Paul Pierce, the best actor/flopper has struggled to find a groove and stay hot for an extended period of time throughout the playoffs. Kevin Garnett has been a force in the middle and a constant pain in the butt to all those on defense. He appears to be healthy for the first time since the Celtics championship season. Last but not least, Ray Allen has been simply great. Allen is known for having the sweetest shot in all of basketball, but his defense has been phenomenal. After slowing down LeBron James and Vince Carter in the previous series’, Allen will be asked to attempt to slow down the best basketball player on the planet, Kobe Bryant.

Kobe Bryant. Need I say more? “The Black Mamba,” is hungry and the scowl is back. Through several severe injuries this season, Bryant has pushed through the pain never complaining or providing an excuse. If able to lead his team to a fifth NBA championship during his tenure, Bryant would be qualifying himself for legendary status. He is a true warrior and we are privileged to have the opportunity to watch greatness.

With a supporting cast of potential all-league starters, Bryant will most definitely have help. The Lakers return the majority of the ’09 championship team with the addition of the strange Ron Artest. He is a shut-down defender, but can make you scream at the television at times for his mental mistakes. Pau Gasol is a star, continuing to produce on both ends of the court. Regardless if Bryant is getting his, the Lakers must get the ball inside to Gasol to have a balanced attack. Lamar Odom could be the best player on a lot of teams, but through his unselfish willingness to do what is best for his team by coming off the bench, the Lakers have become a dynamic force. With a terrific all-around game, Odom is the key to the Lakers success.

This will be a great NBA Finals. Both teams are prepared to go to war, doing whatever is necessary to win. With no other real rivalries in the NBA, this is the match-up that everyone wanted; the league tries to fabricate rivalries that really mean nothing. With a combined 33 championships between the two teams, the Celtics and Lakers represent greatness and tradition. But one team must be victorious, and the Los Angeles Lakers will win the series in six games, 4-2. Kobe Bryant will not let his team lose.

Tune in tonight at 9:00pm on ABC for Game 1 of the NBA Finals. In the spirit of Hollywood: lights, camera, ACTION!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hockey's time is now

Two months ago today, hockey was officially back as one of the four major sports. Today, it is no where to be found. To the surprise of most, hockey is actually still here and the Stanley Cup Finals are currently in progress. The Chicago Blackhawks lead the series versus’ the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-0.

Following a spectacular performance from Team USA in this year’s Winter Olympics, our country was at last captivated by the grand game of hockey. SportsCenter was leading off its telecasts with its highlights and most of all, we wanted more. With such young American born talent as Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks and Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils, the NHL finally had the players to market its newfound resurgence into the sports world.

With an incredible opportunity to capitalize on the tidal wave of momentum, the NHL dropped the puck. But why? How could no one outside the cities of Chicago and Philadelphia care about the Stanley Cup?!

The majority of the NHL’s regular season games can only be found on the Outdoor Network or Versus. As big of a sports fan, ODN and Versus are not on top of my to-watch list even if I’m lucky enough to find the channel. The league must forcefully insert itself into the public eye, allowing its viewers and targeted audience the ability to watch their product. Having more games on relevant sports networks such as ESPN and Fox Sports is critical. But the problem may lie within the actual product, not the provider.

To watch a game on television in its entirety can become drawn out and boring for the casual sports fan. The argument can be made that hockey is the most exciting sport to watch in person. With the constant action and thrill a goal being scored, it’s truly an awesome rush of emotion. But on television, it’s difficult to feel as you’re disconnected from the explosion of that emotion and energy within each arena.

The NHL has done a poor job of marketing its players and product. The only players to be featured regularly are Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitials. Regardless of the fact that both that both of these players are foreign born athletes, there are many players throughout the league that would be terrific representatives hockey.

The NHL must build a foundation by getting its young athletes (while continuing to include Crosby and Ovechkin as well) into the public sports forum, enabling the opportunity to progress and reach its potential with a young fan base. It will not be easy, but in time it is very possible. Hockey is not dead, but the clock is ticking.

In the meantime, tune in tomorrow night at 8:00pm on Versus, for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Though leading 2-0, this series is far from over as the Flyers have already come back from a 3-0 deficit in an earlier round. This is an opportunity to witness the great hockey. The skating is sharper, the shots are faster and the hits are truly bone rattling. These men will leave it all on the ice, including teeth, for hockey immortality and to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Poor in quality and basketball

Throughout this years NBA playoffs, the level of play has been mediocre. Thus far, we’ve witnessed LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers ousted by the Boston Celtics earlier than expected and despite losing in the first round to the Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder announced to the world that he is the future of basketball.

What we haven’t seen is the fire and passion. Growing up in the ‘90s, I had the privilege of watching incredible basketball. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen always had a target on their backs, as they won an unprecedented six championships. But what those Chicago Bulls teams had to go through to earn those rings is all but history.

Today’s “stars” are so pampered and spoiled with unearned accolades, it’s sickening. James hasn’t won anything, and is referred to as, “King James.” Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic is featured in every Gatorade commercial and recently starred in a movie, yet he can’t seem to stay on the court because of fouls.

These guys as well as most of the NBA couldn’t make it in the league back then. The tough New York Knicks would have bullied them till they cried off the court. Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers would have stuck daggers through their hearts on a nightly basis. Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz would and probably still would push you down and then tell you that you weren’t going to do anything about it.

But there are a couple current players that are throwbacks from the 90’s. Kobe Bryant of the Lakers is the closest there is and has been to Jordan; and for the record, he is the best basketball player in the NBA. Bryant’s currently playing with a bad back, a couple broken fingers, a sprained ankle and a knee that has to be drained regularly; these are the only injuries that we know of because “The Black-Mamba” wouldn’t cry to the media or his team with excuses.

Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns gets his ass kicked every night, but he keeps playing no matter what. He realizes that his team has no chance without him on the court. Nash’s eye was cut so bad in a playoff game, it closed up on him, forcing him to play with one eye. In the most recent series versus’ the Lakers, he took an elbow to the nose, breaking it once again. Come out of the game? Nah, he just broke it back into place and kept playing.

You might say, “But LeBron played through an injured elbow.” No he did not. If he wasn’t rubbing it during the game, he was out of the game physically or mentally. He probably “hurt” his elbow by executing his pre-game ritual of throwing powder in the air. Oh wait, he stole that from Jordan too.

Maybe the NBA as a whole is not as fierce as it once was because of the officiating. A hard foul then, is now a flagrant foul with a possible suspension and fine. The personal fouls being called are ridiculous. Players cannot touch another player, preventing any kind of defense to be played. Commissioner David Stern needs to figure out what the problem is, because the brand of basketball he’s currently selling is unappealing and poor in quality.

How can the league fix this? You can't bring back the players of yester-year, but you can let the current guys play. We'd much rather see Kevin Garnett battle with Dwight Howard rather than Glenn Davis versus' Marcin Gortat because of foul trouble. I understand that the league is trying to clean up its image and prevent conflict on the court, but this is a sport of competitive drive and will. These guys may not have as much as the players fromt he past, but lets mustard as much as we can out of the prima donnas. Things happen, but the league and officiating must relax and let the players play.

Although, the league did announce yesterday that they will be embarking on a new endeavor: the pizza business. Among the items that will be available are edible team logos for your pizza and toaster snacks. I take back what I said regarding the job Stern is doing…

As seen in the ESPN 30 for 30 film, Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. New York Knicks, the battles that took place during this time were epic. These guys weren’t playing for the name on the back of their jerseys; they went to war, literally fighting (as seen above with Charles Oakley of the Knicks and Alonzo Mourning of the Miami Heat) for their city, the fans, their teammates, but most importantly to accomplish the ultimate glory of becoming a champion. No matter if it was a superstar or a role player, they were leaving it all on the court, doing whatever was necessary to win. The will and desire to win was everything.

Where has the fire and passion gone? Will it ever return? Doubtful. The cause of this are a result of several issues, but hopefully after a dreadful postseason, the league will take a hard look at what they're selling (basketball, not pizza). The players from that time are long gone and so is quality NBA basketball. As a basketball fan, I really hope that this changes soon, because it's truly disappointing.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Empire State of Mind

LeBron James will finally be saved from Cleveland, Ohio. Last night, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, concluding the series, 4-2. Throughout the series, Cleveland didn’t belong on the same court as Boston, as it was obvious which team was better. Going forward, despite the NBA Playoffs continuing, the basketball world will be waiting for James’ announcement:

In 47 days, LeBron James will become a New York Knick.

While James has developed into one of the best players in the world winning back-to-back MVP awards, the Cavaliers are regressing. After being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals in 2007, they have yet to return to the championship, losing in the conference finals to the Orlando Magic last year and now the semi-finals this year.

Yes, Cleveland has tried their best to assemble a viable supporting cast for its superstar, but what they have now is simply not good enough. The players on this team are sloppy seconds that nobody wanted. If James wasn’t on this team, they would be bad basketball team preparing to pick in the draft lottery. Even with James on the roster, they can’t compete against teams such as the Magic, Celtics, or the entire Western Conference, where each team has two or three great players with tremendous support from their role players.

Well if this is the case, why would James go to the Knicks? The power of James will have an immediate impact on any team he chooses to play for going forward, especially in the Eastern Conference. Some say, “Why would he go to the Knicks or the Nets? They are terrible.” Well, what do you have when you take James off the Cavaliers? The current Knicks or the Nets.

The New Jersey Nets are an interesting player in this free agent sweepstakes. The Nets have recently been purchased by the a Russian billionaire who has made it very clear and public that he is willing to do whatever it takes to win. The Nets will also be relocating to Brooklyn, home of minority owner and close friend of James, Jay Z. “Hova” understands that James will make the best business decision for he and his family, but count on his friend inquiring regarding the possibility of joining forces in an effort to take over New York City and the world.

This is a special year of free-agency. The players available are established stars looking for a big pay day and a chance to unite with other free agents to accomplish the ultimate goal of becoming a champion. Will Dwayne Wade stay in Miami? Is Dirk going to make it work in Dallas? Or will the Phoenix Suns use its team option on Amare Stoudemire? Many questions loom, as the NBA landscape could be drastically different next season.

Chris Bosh will play a pivotal role in the upcoming decision making for James. Once he decides where he will play, it will have a domino effect on the rest of the free agent class. Being hidden away, playing in Toronto for the past seven years, Bosh has become one of the most underrated players in the NBA. James and Bosh have developed a strong friendship off the court while also having experience playing with one another on the USA team. If these two superstar friends/players communicate to each other that they want to build a dynasty together, watch out league.

Cleveland fans will be outraged and angered about what will be said about their city and team. Accept it, your city is comparable to a third-world country and your teams don’t belong in any of the major sports. Trust me, I’ve been to Cleveland. I immediately needed a tetanus shot following my visit.

By the way, James is from Akron, Ohio, not Cleveland. Get over it. Any kind of allegiance to Cleveland or its fans is a joke. James will do what is in the best interest of his family and future.

Regardless if James signs with the Knicks or the Nets, New York is where James belongs. The biggest star must be featured in the biggest city on the biggest stage. Not only will basketball be important in his decision making process, but the marketing/business aspect of New York is critical. Following the loss last night, he stated that he and his team (business partners and advisors) will evaluate all options and execute their game plan. James has made it known that he wants to be the first billionaire athlete. To accomplish that goal as well as win championships, Cleveland is not in that plan.

Cleveland is not good enough for James. He deserves better. The NBA and its fans deserve better. LeBron James will have his choice of bologna or filet mignon. The choice is obvious. He knows exactly what he will be doing, and that is making a home in the Mecca of Basketball in the greatest city in the world.

Congratulations New York and Spike Lee, you have just won the lottery. Welcome to New York, LeBron.

Friday, May 7, 2010

To run, or not to run...

Typically we go to our dad for advice regarding different situations and scenarios throughout our lives. Sometimes we may rebel, shying away from his words of wisdom because of immaturity or utter stupidity. On Monday night, Steve Consalvi called his dad for advice and ran with it, literally.

During the eighth inning of the Phillies home game, Consalvi asked his dad, “Dad, can I run on the field?” His dad responded, “I don't think you should, son.” Honestly, I’m a bit surprised that he did provide his son with the correct response, considering they are from Philly. Regardless, Consalvi stood from his seat, jumped the barrier, and ran on to the playing field of Citizens Bank Park (home stadium of the Phillies).

Relishing in the moment, Consalvi ran wild, waving his Phillies towel in joy. As he sprinted through the outfield, Consalvi dodged and juked in an OJ Simpson-esque manner (with tacklers and law enforcement). As was with OJ, Consalvi couldn’t escape the inevitable ending.

But the tactic of how Consalvi was captured was the most intriguing aspect. Consalvi was shot with a taser-gun, laying him out in shock on the field. Security quickly stood him up and walked him off the field in handcuffs.

Consalvi, 17, was not intoxicated leading up to or during the escapade. He was not injured from the fall or the shock of the taser.

He will be charged with criminal trespassing and other related offenses.

In our world today, we must be prepared for anything. In 2002, two fans ran onto the field and attacked the Kansas Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa. The Royals, not security, were first to come to their coach’s defense. They quickly detained the two men till security was present.

What if these guys had a weapon? What if they seriously hurt or even killed Gamboa? This is unacceptable and should not be tolerated. To prevent this from happening, leagues and teams must do whatever is necessary protect the players and coaches on the field.

Before every game at every stadium and arena, regardless of the sport, the public addressor provides a team policy along the lines of the following, “Please do not come on to the playing field for any reason. If any fan(s) does not abide by team policy, the fan(s) will be prosecuted to the extent of the law.” And in case you didn’t hear the announcement, the following statement is made known on the gigantic video-screen to be read.

So should tasing be permitted in future instances? The answer is YES. By running on the field, you know what will happen. Usually you’re tackled by a security guard and charged immediately. But if tasing is necessary to stop the stupidity, then so be it. I haven’t been nor do I plan on being tased under any circumstance, but I’ve heard they hurt, a whole lot. They’ll know better next time to even think about acting in such stupidity. And if not, well, they’re idiots. Light ‘em up!

As for Consalvi, what do you expect? He’s from Philadelphia...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

2010 NFL Draft

Tonight is one of the biggest and most popular events in football. Regardless of who your team is, they are participating, looking to improve, building for the now and onward towards the future. The 2010 NFL Draft begins tonight at 8:00pm on ESPN. Are you ready for some football?!

For months, the experts have provided us with hundreds of mock drafts, predicting every possible outcome. The scenarios include trade options of current NFL players, repositioning of teams in the draft or the smoke screens sent up by teams to gain leverage.

The one constant are the top three selections. The St. Louis Rams are poised to finally select their quarterback of the future with former Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford from the University of Oklahoma. Over the past two years, the Rams have bypassed several studs such as Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez. As a team selecting number one overall, the entire team needs a makeover, but Bradford will become the centerpiece of the franchise as it begins the rebuilding process. If able to recover from a serious shoulder injury, Bradford has the opportunity to be great. For his sake, the Rams had better draft a couple offensive linemen to protect their new $50 million investment.

The Detroit Lions are still a mess, but are slowly improving. After drafting big armed quarterback Matthew Statford last year, the Lions will now draft defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh from the University of Nebraska. Suh will anchor the Detroit defense for 10-12 years, as some believe he is the most talented prospect in this years draft.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will round out the top three selections by selecting another defensive tackle, Gerald McCoy from the University of Oklahoma. This is Tampa's opportunity to fill a big hole from within, left by future Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. These two very large men will both have an immediate impact on their respected teams and the rest of the league.

After the first three picks, anything can happen. But there is one draft prospect that you can go ahead and expect guaranteed success. Some might refer to him as the second coming, but he is a quarterback. I predict that Tim Tebow will be a quality NFL starting quarterback, providing not only leadership on and off the field, but superb performance as well.

Throughout Tebow’s legendary career at the University of Florida, which included two national championships and countless awards for his superior play (including a Heisman Trophy), everyone has condemned him to NFL mediocrity. Most have penciled him in as a halfback, tight-end, or a gimmick-player on the next level. But Tebow will not allow nor accept a position change.

Since passing for over 450 yards in his final game with the Gators, With an elongated delivery, Tebow was prone to fumbling. He was also easily read by the defense, resulting in interceptions. Tebow has completely broken down his throwing mechanics, rebuilding himself as a passer. Before this reincarnation of Tebow, an NFL defense would have picked him apart, as they are light-years ahead (faster and smarter in all aspects of the game) of a college defense. Tebow’s new mechanics will limit preventable turnovers, as well as help him effectively read defenses. He has the arm strength to make all the throws necessary to execute an efficient offense.

This will not be an overnight adjustment. Essentially learning how to throw a ball all over again, Tebow must continue to progress or else he won't make it as a NFL quarterback. He is a winner though, and failure is not an option. On every level, Tebow has had doubters, critiquing his every move, stating that he will not succeed. The doubters are back, and I am really excited to see Tebow prove everyone wrong, again.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Philly Class

Have you ever been to a sporting event and found yourself in the uncomfortable situation of being close to drunk and disorderly fan(s)? This past week at a Philadelphia Phillies-Washington Nationals game, Michael Vangelo and his 15-year-old daughter were in for a long day at the ballpark.

Throughout the game Vangelo, an off-duty police captain, tolerated the belligerent actions of two young men, who were seated just behind he and his daughter. Initially, it was not Vangelo, but his daughter who felt that enough was enough. Turning around, she asked the fans to please stop. Shortly after, the disorderly conduct started again and escalated. One of the fans began spitting, landing several on Vangelo’s daughter.

Finally, security stepped in and an officer escorted the spitter from his seat and out of the stadium. Upset by what had transpired, Matthew Clemmons, the spitter’s friend, felt that he needed to act on his behalf. Clemmons, 21, of Cherry Hill, N.J., announced that he was feeling sick. He began to stick two fingers down his throat and proceeded to vomit on Vangelo and his daughter.

“It was the most vile, disgusting thing I’ve ever seen,” said Vangelo.

Acting as quickly as possible, Vangelo tried to block his daughter from Clemmons attempt, receiving the blunt of the vomit. Clemmons also punched Vangelo in the face during the madness. Several fans and Vangelo tackled Clemmons, getting in punches of their own and held him to the ground until law enforcement arrived.

Clemmons was charged with assault, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct and related offenses for the incident. He was held Friday on $36,000 bail.

This is just one example of the negative affects of alcohol being present at sporting events. It’s truly unfortunate that children are subjected to this reckless behavior. The sad thing is that these types of situations in the stands, as well as fan altercations with players, will continue to occur. The demand for alcohol is extremely high; thus allowing teams to charge awfully high prices for its consumption. The teams are also being paid an incredible amount of money for sponsorship rights. It's not going anywhere, any time soon.

How do we fix the problem? It’s simple; remove alcohol from sporting events. This will promote a family safe environment for all to enjoy. You don’t need alcohol to have a good time at a sporting event.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Ultimate victory

Phil Mickelson is a true champion, but not because of the golf tournament he won yesterday. What am I talking about? The Masters is the Super Bowl of golf tournaments; Augusta is the Mecca of golf courses and experiences. But no, Mickelson would trade his third and even his two previously earned green jackets as a Masters champion for one thing, his family.

Throughout the past year, Mickelson’s wife Amy has battled breast cancer. Although she immediately underwent major surgery and has been through intensive treatment, Amy has struggled immensely. Though fighting for her life, she and her family have continued to stay strong through love and faith.

Mickelson played absolutely masterful this past weekend. He was unquestionably the best golfer through 72 holes. His championship performance has become an instant classic. The unimaginable, gutsy shots he took and capitalized on, will be heralded throughout the golf community. But the moment that will last forever, didn’t happen during any of the rounds of play, let alone on the golf course.

Ridden to bed rest, Amy was not expected to make an appearance at Augusta. But on this day, nothing would prevent her from being by her husband's side. After birdying the 18th hole to win the Masters, Mickelson quickly went to his wife and three children. He immediately embraced her, sharing tears of joy. As Mickelson was presented as the 2010 Masters champion, he dedicated his victory to Amy.

No matter if he never wins another golf tournament, Mickelson’s already won. The time he has with his family is the ultimate victory. Amy's prognosis is positive, but she and her family still have an uphill battle ahead of them going forward.

Mickelson is a true champion, and no one will ever take that away from him. Regardless if you are a golf fan or not, Mickelson’s display of love demonstrates that we must be here in the now by always living in the moment.

This blog is dedicated to my late grandfather, Bob Demirjian. My grandather introduced me to the game of golf and continues to inspire me to be special. I miss you grandpa.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Time's an issue

Following the opening series with the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, umpire Joe West expressed his feelings on the length of the games specifically regarding these two teams to the Bergen (N.J.) Record.

"They’re the two clubs that don't try to pick up the pace," said West, the crew chief of the three-game series. "They're two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest? It's pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play."

Throughout the season, their series' are consistently the longest in length; a typical Yankees-Sox game lasts approximately 3:45 to play. The Yankees were also criticized after game 4 of the World Series, when catcher Jorge Posada visited the mound eight times in one inning.

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera took exception to these remarks. "It's incredible," Rivera told The Post. "If he has places to go, let him do something else. What does he want us to do, swing at balls? "He has a job to do. He should do his job. We don't want to play four-hour games but that's what it takes. We respect and love the fans and do what we have to do and that”s play our game."

West is considered one of the best and most respected umpires in baseball. Umpiring since 1976, West is a fixture at the most significant games throughout the the season. He has called several All-Star games as well as each round of the playoffs, including the World Series. Nicknamed "Cowboy Joe," West is also known for being a country singer/song writer.

Despite his credible resume, West is wrong. Whether a game lasts two hours or five hours, the game will be played as long as it is necessary. When the Yankees and Red Sox meet, the level of play and competitiveness is never higher. Every decision throughout a game is critical. Whether it’s what pitch to throw or the positioning of the defense on every play, one mistake can cost you the game, or even your season. Unlike any other game or series, the rivalry is different; honor and pride are at stake.

Regardless of what West believes, nothing will change. Managers Joe Girardi and Terry Francona will continue to approach each game with such care and precision, but most importantly, Commissioner Bud Selig loves every second. With no other game or series does the league earn such high ratings as when the Yankees and the Sox play. Financially, Major League Baseball prospers when these two teams are atop the baseball world, battling each other 18 times a year, plus the playoffs.

Be sure to clear your schedule May 7-9, as the World Champion Yankees travel to Boston for another epic three-game weekend series. I have a feeling Selig might have something to say on which crew of umpires will be in attendance. Have fun in Cleveland "Cowboy Joe," they do there very best to finish games in record time.

Monday, April 5, 2010

2010 Baseball Outlook and Predictions

Baseball is finally here. Five months ago today, the New York Yankees became champions of baseball for a record 27th time. Despite a valiant effort from the defending champs, the Philadelphia Phillies were no match for the Bronx Bombers. But this is a new year, a new season; a season filled with hope and optimism for 30 teams and their fans. As Yankees legend Derek Jeter said last week, “Last season is over. The time is now.” Throughout the off-season, clubs have worked to improve and continue progressing to achieve the ultimate goal, becoming a champion.

The Colorado Rockies are the sexy pick this season. Loaded with young talent and viable veterans, the Rockies are poised to continue their progression and return to the World Series. The most disappointing team of this off-season has been the Los Angeles Dodgers. Due to the pending divorce of owner Frank McCourt, the Dodgers were unable to use to the necessary finances to improve their team going forward. The Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants will be competitive throughout the season, but will falter by mid-September, allowing Colorado to roll into October unscathed.

The St. Louis Cardinals are poised to recover from an October swoon, which saw them lose in the NLDS. This surprising loss prompted the organization to re-sign outfielder Matt Holiday to a long term contract. Now, the organization must focus their attention on resigning the best hitter in baseball, Albert Pujols. Regardless, St. Louis still has one of the best rotations in baseball with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright leading the way to October redemption. The NL Central will be the least competitive division in baseball. The Milwaukee Brewers have a couple nice players, but will not be able to compete with the Cards and their pitching staff. Sorry Cub fans, maybe next year.

While the Phillies did obtain the best pitcher in baseball, Roy Halladay, for some reason that has yet to be determined, they traded pitcher Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners. Despite this moment insanity, the Phillies are the favorite to repeat as league champions. With an all-star lineup and the addition of Halladay, it’ll be tough for any team to compete with this potential dynasty in the making. But the resurgent Atlanta Braves might have something to say about that. This being Bobby Cox’s last season at the helm, the Atlanta is an exciting ball club who is sure to come out playing for their manager. The Washington Nationals have significantly improved from last season, but the key word is the future. With pitcher Stephen Strasburg marinating in the minors and all-world prospect Bryce Harper soon to be drafted number one overall, the future is bright in our nation’s capital. As for the New York Mets…no comment.

The Mariners overhauled their roster from last season, in an effort to contend in the “Wild West.” The additions of Chone Figgins and Milton Bradley will bolster their paltry offense from last season considerably. By signing Figgns away from the Anaheim Angels, the Angels consistent rule of the division could be in jeopardy. Ichiro is still one of the most dynamic players in the game, and although he’s now 40 years young, Ken Griffey Jr. still has some pop left in the sweetest swing in baseball. With pitchers Felix Hernandez and Lee atop their rotation, the Mariners will have a chance to win and make a run for a playoff spot. Although the Texas Rangers have made some nice moves this off-season, Hall of Famer and now owner Nolan Ryan won’t be pitching any time soon.

The AL Central is a toss up and will be determined in the last week of the season. Discard the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals right now. They are as what we refer to as, “rebuilding.” The Chicago White Sox will be the surprise team of the year. They made their move for this season, last season, by trading for pitcher Jake Peavy at the trading deadline. From all reports, Peavy is finally healthy, as he looks to reclaim his CY Young form. The Minnesota Twins will not only be battling teams this season, but Mother Nature as well. The Twins will attempt to begin play in their new open-air stadium; good luck. The loss of their all-star closer Joe Nathan will be difficult to overcome, but the state of Minnesota can rest easy knowing that their native son, catcher Joe Mauer, will be a well paid Twin for the foreseeable future.

As defending champions, the Yankees are the class of baseball. By trading with the Tigers to acquire outfielder Curtis Granderson, in addition to having one of the top infields in baseball history, the Yankees can set the cruise control to October. In his second stint in New York, pitcher Javier Vasquez will thrive in his new role as the fourth starter/innings eater. The Tampa Bay Rays, not the Boston Red Sox, will be the Yankees toughest challenge throughout the season. Led by Manager Joe Madden, the Ray’s gifted rotation and electrifying lineup have tremendous potential, which will result in a wild card berth. Despite a string of runs to produce an opening night victory, Boston’s aging offense will eventually fail them again. Their starting pitching is overrated and will be hammered on a regular basis by both New York and Tampa. By seasons end, the “Nation,” will be finish in third place, once again bowing down to their superior supremacy, Yankees Universe.

No surprise here, Albert “The Machine” Pujols and Alex Rodriguez will each win their fourth MVP award. We are watching history each time these two men step in the batters box. Rodriguez will be pushed by Joe Mauer, but Rodriguez will have much more opportunity to boost his numbers with a better team around him and having the opportunity to play 81 games in Yankee Stadium. If able to stay healthy, Florida Marlins Josh Johnson and the before mentioned Peavy will each win the CY Young award for their respected leagues.

Come October, the St. Louis Cardinals will head to the Bronx and attempt to dethrone the New York Yankees in the 2010 World Series. Mayor Bloomberg can go ahead and plan a parade through the Canyon of Hero’s, as Yankees will become champions of baseball for the 28th time. Sorry Francisco Cervelli, you might want to start looking for a new uniform number now, because Girardi’s will be changing again.

The next eight months are sure to be absolutely remarkable. Opening Day is truly an American holiday. Today, no matter your allegiance, your team is in first place and everyone has a fresh start. Baseball is the greatest game there ever has been and ever will be. As Hall of Famer Wade Boggs said, “Baseball is America and apple pie, baby!”

Happy Opening Day!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A day in Tampa

The smell of freshly cut Bermudagrass was in the air. The sound of wood bats hitting the ball rang all over. Baseball is officially back. After attending countless Major League Baseball games throughout the country, I had never attended a Spring Training game. Yesterday, my family and I traveled to Tampa, Florida, spring home of the World Champion New York Yankees. The Yankees welcomed the Minnesota Twins to Tampa on an absolutely perfect day for baseball. Unfortunately, due to record rain fall the previous two days, I was unable to attend any other games throughout the Grapefruit League circuit.

As we approached the complex, we noticed the Yankees preparing for the game on a practice field adjacent from their home stadium, George M. Steinbrenner Field, otherwise known as, “The Boss.” Only a mere 10 feet away stood the champions; Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixiera and the list goes on. Even all-time greats such as Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson were in full uniform, never looking better. Earlier this week, Jackson was asked, “How many home runs do you think you could hit at the new Yankee Stadium?” Jackson answered, “I’d hit 18-20.” The commentator was taken aback by Jackson’s surprising response. He responded, “Are you serious?” As sharp as ever, Mr. October smirked and said, “What do you expect? I’m 62 years old.”

As defending champions, players can become complacent, taking for granted what they had achieved the year before by not preparing at the highest level necessary to be successful. Complacency is not in this team’s vocabulary. This mindset starts from the top, led by the Steinbrenner family and General Manager, Brian Cashman. On the field, the team is led by its general, Manager Joe Girardi. This mindset for greatness was evident from the players as well. The veterans were hustling harder than ever, proving that no matter your age or prior success, you always hustle on the baseball field. The new comers, such as Curtis Granderson, were being as involved as possible to become acclimated with their new team. Everybody was communicating on and off the field, establishing a strong relationship with one another.

Players are familiar to fans calling their names, requesting pictures, autographs or just a look over in their direction. As players mature, they develop a mechanism to block out distraction, having the ability to focus on their craft. I noticed one woman was screaming for Jeter and Rodriguez to look over, so she could take their picture. To the novice fan, they may not realize that this is their job. The common argument is that because these men are paid such an exuberant amount of money to play baseball that they in some way owe everyone something. Regardless if they make a lot of money playing baseball, this is their job and they are preparing for a 162 game season and beyond.

I mentioned this to the woman and was quickly refuted with a remark that the players owe her, a woman from New Jersey, a picture and their undivided attention. Realizing that I was wasting my time, she continued to scream. As the next group of players came in to hit, the screaming intensified as well as autograph seekers literally banging bats and other merchandise on the fence. Cool as ever, Jeter walks by and says, “I’m working now.” Jeter was not rude or disrespectful in any way. He is appreciative of all the support he has received throughout the years, but he is simply doing his job. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld said, “Would you like me to come to your place of work and harass you?”

At this point of Spring Training, the veterans are ready to break camp and begin the marathon of 162 games. For most of the players, they have spent the last two months in Florida working tirelessly on all of the small things from covering first to bunting. In the meantime, players battle for the final spots on the opening day roster. Journeyman veterans compete to save their job, while minor leaguers fight for a chance to fulfill their dreams of becoming a major leaguer.

As a baseball fan, I want to see the best players play, exhibiting the highest level of play, but it’s exciting to see who will step up and claim a spot on the 25 man roster. I was hoping to see superstar catcher Joe Mauer of the Twins, but unfortunately due to opening day next week, the Twins chose to rest their star. This is understandable considering the Twins just invested $186 million over the next eight years in Mauer. It is also common for veterans to not travel with the team during spring training, allowing other players to see playing time, allowing the coaching staff to evaluate them as well.

The game was great and the weather couldn’t have been better. The Twins were victorious, defeating the Yankees 4-2. In Spring Training, wins and losses are not as significant as the regular season. The bottom-tier teams typically have the best records throughout the spring, as they play their regulars much more often; the better teams rest their players for the games that count.

Rodriguez did not disappoint, blasting a home run into the right field bleachers. Pitcher Phil Hughes was shakey at best. Hughes lost his control throughout the outing, forcing Girardi to go to his bullpen earlier than expected. As the season approaches, Hughes remains a question mark, as Girardi took a big gamble last week, announcing that Hughes would replace embattled pitcher Joba Chamberlain in the starting rotation.

One of the highlights of the day was seeing pitcher C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia didn’t pitch, nor was he even in the dugout. Between innings, I spotted the big lefty on a practice field, playing with his children. Starting Sunday night, as the Yankees head to Boston to open their season; Sabathia won’t be able to see and spend as much time with his family. That time he is able to spend with his kids is so valuable. I am so thankful that I was able to spend the day with my family. Days like yesterday will be treasured forever and I hope to do this with my children in the future.

I highly suggest to all baseball fans to attend a Spring Training game. It was a really cool experience that all fans would thoroughly enjoy. It’s also not as expensive as it may be to attend a game during the regular season. The price for 12 tickets for my family was the equivalent of two tickets to a Yankees game.

On Sunday, look for my predictions and outlook going into the 2010 season. I hope everyone contributes their thoughts and opinions as well. This season is sure to be great!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The second weekend

Last weekend’s opening round of the NCAA Tournament was one for the ages. The upsets were a plenty and the drama was unmatched by any movie. But what can we expect going into the second weekend?

The upsets we projected, failed to come to fruition, while the games we had written off as all but won proved to be anything but guaranteed. As the games were being played I had already thrown my bracket out the window, pulling for the little guys to dethrone the national powers. Giants such as Georgetown and Wisconsin were knocked off quickly, but nobody projected Kansas to fall so soon.

As the number one overall seed in the tournament, the Kansas Jayhawks had a presumed path to the Final Four. Little did they know that the Panthers of Northern Iowa would show up to play. Led by senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh, UNI played the game of their lives. Slowed by a full-court press late in the game, UNI finally broke through the press. With a full shot-clock and about a minute left in the game, Farokhmanesh would knock down one of the ballsiest shots in tournament history, inevitably ending the Jayhawks season.

UNI is not the only mid-major program causing havoc in tournament pools. Ivy League champion Cornell has advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time, but faces the very talented Kentucky Wildcats in their next game. The Saint Mary’s Gaels are also a surprise, as they take on the upstart Baylor Bears. But don’t be surprised if one of these three teams dances its way to the Final Four. As we all should know by now anything is possible in March.

Several teams are doing their best to shed the “mid-major” title. The Xavier Minutemen are legit and must be taken seriously. In the past seven seasons, the Minutemen have advanced to the Sweet 16 three times and the Elite Eight twice. The Butler Bulldogs and the Gonzaga Bulldogs are perennial national contenders every year. They both excel throughout the regular season, playing extremely competitive non-conference schedules and consistently win tournament games. Mid-major or not, nobody should be taken for granted in the tournament.

The biggest disappointment of the tournament by far have been the representatives of the Big East. Before the tournament began, the Big East was proclaimed by most, including me, as the best basketball conference in the country. With eight teams at the start of the tournament, only two remain. Syracuse and West Virginia must carry the load for the underachieving conference going forward into the second weekend. However, Syracuse still remains a favorite to advance to the Final Four and win the championship.

With my Final Four already skewed by one, I will replace Georgetown with Tennessee to face Syracuse. My projection of Kentucky versus Duke still looks solid. Going into the tournament, I was concerned about the Wildcats inexperience, but thus far they look scary good. Led by all-world freshman John Wall, Duke will have their hands full. But I stand my by original prediction of Syracuse defeating Duke in the national championship game.

The second weekend of the tournament will not disappoint. Make sure to have your game snacks ready and to schedule your bathroom breaks accordingly, because you will not want to miss anything. Let the madness ensue!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The MJ affect

Michael Jeffrey Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all-time, is prepared to take his biggest gamble yet. Last week, Jordan became the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. This is Jordan’s second chance as a front office executive, as his first attempt was nothing but failure.

In 2000, Jordan became part owner of the Washington Wizards. His main role with the organization was as President of Basketball Operations. This role included comprehensive control over all player personnel and on-court activity.

The most magnified transaction of Jordan’s tenure with the Wizards was the drafting of high school phenom Kwame Brown with the number one overall pick in the 2001 draft. To Jordan’s credit, all of the experts agreed with this selection due to his enormous upside and projectability. Unfortunately for Jordan, Brown would never blossom into the force he had imagined. Brown’s career quickly fizzled out as a seldom used backup, never realizing his potential. They will forever be linked together as one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.

Brown did have the opportunity to play with and learn from a great player. No not Rod Strickland; it was Michael Jordan. Jordan returned to the NBA for two more seasons with Washington. Half the player he once was, Jordan did make the all-star team each season (due to fan voting) but failed to revive the floundering Wizards. Returning to reality, Jordan assumed he would return to his former role with the organization. After the draft debacle and initiating several unpopular trades, Washington’s owner Abe Pollin fired Jordan, ending a dismal attempt of running an NBA franchise.

Jordan has developed a reputation as one of the most fiercely competitive human being’s ever. It was to no surprise to anyone that he wanted to revenge his shortcomings in Washington by performing at a higher level with another organization. In 2006, Jordan became a minority shareholder of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.

With the Bobcats, owner Bob Johnson named Jordan as the Managing Member of Basketball Operations. Within this role, Jordan would once again have the opportunity to do a job he had once failed at with the Wizards. Under Jordan’s watch, the Bobcats have drastically improved. Despite poor drafting once again, Jordan has been able to make several key moves, such as trading for Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson. Currently, Charlotte is vying for its first playoff appearance in its young franchise history.

Nine months ago, Johnson, the first African-American majority owner of a major professional sports team, decided to seek buyers for the Bobcats. After losing tens of millions of dollars the previous year with Charlotte, Johnson wanted to recoup his losses from his initial $300 million investment. After negotiations between two investment parties, Johnson awarded Jordan the opportunity to buy controlling interest of the Bobcats. Jordan’s latest purchase was a bargain for $270 million.

Jordan is now the first former player to become a majority owner of a major sports team. With full control over all decisions, Jordan is now in charge. Several questions loom from within the basketball community, the organization and the city of Charlotte regarding the Bobcats.

Jordan must prove doubters wrong, demonstrating the ability to spend more time doing his job of running a successful NBA franchise. He has often been blatantly absent from Charlotte while traveling around the world to golf, party and gamble. Jordan states that his home-base will still be out of Chicago while his children are in school, but that he will spend much more time in his home-state of North Carolina. In just one week as owner, Jordan hasn’t missed a game (home or away) of his Bobcats.

The team’s name has also been a hot topic for the city of Charlotte and its fans. The BOBcats were named after former owner Bob Johnson. Johnson was never a fan favorite throughout Charlotte, rarely attending games and often criticizing the city and its citizens. Considering that Johnson has left a stale taste in the fans mouth, Jordan has left the door open for potential renaming of the organization; this would cost Jordan $3-10 million. Names such as the Cats and the Cougars have recently been suggested. As the ever capitalizing entrepreneur, Jordan might go as far as renaming his team after his own brand, such as the Flight (an original favorite considering the states history in aviation) or the Airmen.

Spending more time and contributing to the city is critical for Jordan going forward. He will look be much more involved than Johnson ever was with charitable opportunities and city endeavors, building a relationship with the once shunned (or Shinned) city. Reportedly, Jordan met with Charlotte 49ers Director of Athletics Judy Rose to discuss developing a long-term business relationship with each other. This would be huge for both, as each program suffers to capitalize on its own community.

The city of Charlotte and the NBA deserves that from Jordan as well. Jordan has the opportunity to make professional basketball relevant again in the Queen City. After the city’s beloved Hornets were ripped away from them by owner George Shinn, the fans have been reluctant to get attached to this new product. Although attendance and ticket sales have improved this season, the team still ranks in the bottom-half of the league of attendance per-game.

Jordan has compared himself to the Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban. Cuban is known as a billionaire super-fan that will do anything for his investment to succeed. That’ll mean less golf, and more work for Jordan. But no matter what the team name is, the team must progress and produce. To do so, they will need their new boss to be present and accounted for on a daily basis. If able to continue playing well and earn a spot in the playoffs this year, the team will be off to a great start.

I truly believe Jordan will do what is necessary to succeed in Charlotte. His ego and pride are way too big for him not to do so. His competitive drive is still as strong as when he was battling the Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” in the ‘80s and the Utah Jazz ‘90s. The MJ affect has already been felt throughout Charlotte, as people are actually talking Bobcats basketball. A new era is set to begin in Charlotte and the future couldn’t be brighter.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March Madness

Starting today, our nation will be put on hold. Today, the madness begins. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is by far the most exciting sports event throughout the year. This event is unlike any other because of its ability to capture the attention of such a wide variety of Americans. Because of this, it allows the below average fan that typically may not engage in sports banter with the more avid follower, to participate in the fun as well.

But there are affects of the tournament that are significantly felt throughout society that are often overlooked and ultimately forgiven; this being the loss of productivity and revenue in the workplace.

John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement and business coaching consultancy at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, has led several outreach assessments of these affects. Challenger reports that throughout the four weeks of the tournament, over $4 billion will be lost in productivity and revenue. This is a result of skipping work or taking extended breaks to follow the several games in progress throughout the day. Our world of technology feeds into the problem as well. We have the convenience of not even having to leave our workspace with the ability to track all of the games with a touch of a button, further facilitating the madness into the workplace.

So how do we fix this problem? Is it a problem? Employers can prohibit any site to be visited that has no such relevance to their work or have sites that would enable this behavior, blocked and unable to access. But employees may not react well to this course of action, taking the day off figuratively or literally. Unfortunately for companies throughout our nation, they will have to manage their assets as well as possible during this time, continuing to work to the best of their ability while coping with this national outbreak of basketball madness.

As the 2010 tournament brackets were unveiled, I honestly was distant and frustrated with basketball as a whole. I was not one of the millions of fans waiting in anticipation as the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee announced this year’s 65 team field. My alma mater, the Charlotte 49ers, had another disappointing season, failing once again to reach the post-season (including the NIT). But as today’s opening round games approached and all of my friends were fanatically filling in their brackets, I couldn’t be more excited. Well, I suppose I’d be a little more excited if my 49ers could be playing…

Debates regarding the tournament will rage on throughout the next couple weeks, ranging from the possible 12 seed over the 5 seed, to who would become this year’s Cinderella team. Many people fill in several brackets with various outcomes throughout the tournament. I personally fill in one bracket; that’s all I need. It will drive you crazy the more you try to break down and analyze every match-up and potential outcome for every minute detail.

Even President Barack Obama completes a bracket every year. If the leader of the free world, who is working tirelessly to fix our economy and implement universal health care, can enjoy the tournament as well, I guess it isn’t too bad. Sorry John Challenger, you’re on your own.

President Obama is one for one with picking the national champion, as he selected the North Carolina Tar Heels last year. This year, he’s picked the Kansas Jayhawks to become champions of college basketball. Not a bad pick considering they are the number one overall seed and prohibitive favorite, as was North Carolina.

Leading up to the tournament, I also try to avoid the sports networks on television or on the radio. During this time of the year, the networks are all on an unhealthy dosage of March Madness adderall, having only one focus while disregarding all other sports. They constantly air their “experts.” These experts share their “insight” throughout the upcoming weeks, preaching to sports nation on who to pick and why. To be completely honest, you probably know better than anyone, especially than the “experts.” If you’ve followed college basketball throughout the season, go with your gut and stick with it!

Now from those experts to me, it looks pretty simple. This year’s tournament will be dominated by the Big East. Without a doubt, the Big East is the most competitive and overall best basketball played in the country. With eight representatives in the field, the national champion will be from this conference. There will not be many upsets, but if there is one watch out for, go with the 12 seed Utah State over the 5 seed Texas A&M. Don’t expect a Cindarella team causing havoc for anyone’s bracket(s), as this year will be dominated by the big boys.

My Final Four includes Georgetown vs. Syracuse and Kentucky vs. Duke.

Georgetown is loaded with talent, being led by the most skilled big man in college basketball, Greg Monroe. The Cuse is getting discarded by the masses because of their early exit in the conference tournament. Coach Jim Boeheim will not let that happen again. It also helps to have the lethal three-point shooting of Andy Rautins and extremely skilled swing man Wes Johnson. The Kentucky Wildcats are dangerous. Loaded with all the talent in the world, Kentucky should advance to the Final Four with ease. Eventually, a lack of experience will catch up to them, as the Wildcats won’t be doing ‘The John Wall Dance’ for long. Coach K and his overachieving Blue Devils will have an answer for Kentucky, advancing to the final game.

After a low scoring championship game, the Syracuse Orangemen will defeat the Duke Blue Devils to become national champions.

I am truly looking forward to this year’s tournament. It is one of the most competitive fields in recent memory, which will provide us with an amazing four weeks of drama and excitement!