Monthly Archives: March 2017

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-BREAKING CAMP

Unlike any other professional sport, baseball always seems to have times during the season that triggers hope in the eyes of a fan.  One of those times are upon us.

In the middle of February the excitement began when the 30 Major League franchises headed for Arizona and Florida.  If you are like me the turning point of Spring Training occurs somewhere around St. Patrick’s Day.  At that point you are either tired of games that don’t count and are played mostly by minor league prospects, or you want to see where teams make their final cuts.

This leads me to my point.  Here we are on March 29th.  Teams are starting to wrap up competition in both the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.  The exodus from Arizona and Florida has begun in advance of Sunday’s national openers.

What is always intriguing to me about this weekend is the scheduling.  This is the weekend when the Blue Jays test the market in Montreal to see if there will eventually be a return of baseball to French Canada.  This year’s opponent, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The US Army and Naval academies will be playing host to pre-season action this weekend.  The Mets visit West Point on Friday afternoon to play a game against Army.  The Red Sox and Nationals will break camp together after tomorrow’s game in Ft. Myers.  Next stop is the Nation’s Capital for a game at Nationals Park, and then it’s off to Annapolis and the Naval Academy on Saturday.

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The United States Naval Academy will host the Red Sox and Nationals this Saturday.  West Point will host the Mets on Friday.

The American League Champion Indians will visit Chase Field in Phoenix for a two game series with the Diamondbacks.  It only took 108 years for me to say this, but the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs broke camp today!  Next stop on the way back to the Friendly Confines will be Houston. The Astros wrapped up their inaugural stint in West Palm Beach this afternoon with a 5-5 tie with the Marlins.  The Astros host the defending champs for a two game series at Minute Maid Park tomorrow and Friday.  Starting Sunday, the Marlins and Rays have Florida all to themselves again (same goes for the Diamondbacks in Arizona).

And finally, this is traditionally the weekend to “soft open” a new ballpark.  The Yankees will head to suburban Atlanta to test out Sun Trust Park, the new home of the Braves.

Hope springs eternal after these final exhibition matchups.  The Yankees and Rays open things for real on Sunday afternoon, followed by the Giants and D-Backs.  Sunday night the Cubs, yes the Cubs open the defense of their crown in, of all places, St. Louis against their arch rivals!

Just a program note, my next blog will be a two-part preview of the Major League 2017 season. Part 1 will be my Sunday blog and it will conclude on Wednesday.

IS YOUR BRACKET STILL ALIVE?

Here we are heading towards the close of the second weekend of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  The field has dwindled to six, it will be down to the Final Four by days end. So the question now is who’s still alive?

I will say from a personal standpoint that I am living and dying with Kentucky at this point.  Like most Duke and Arizona were bracket busters for me.  Out of my  predicted Final Four only Kentucky remains in the dance.

Image result for Florida buzzer beaterUniversity of Florida’s Chris Chiozza hits a buzzer beating 3 point shot to oust Wisconsin.

So far the highlight of this year’s tournament has to be Florida’s Chris Chiozza’s buzzer beating three pointer in overtime.  This shot knocked Wisconsin from the tournament and propelled the Gators into the Elite 8.

The biggest bracket busters in the field have to be South Carolina, (who has dispatched both Duke and Baylor) and Oregon (who ended Michigan’s unlikely run and knocked off Kansas last night).  Oregon won the original NCAA Tournament in 1939, that was the last time the Ducks were in the Final Four.

 

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Local newspaper headline from 1939, the last time the University of Oregon went to the Final Four, they were National Champs.

Who plays Cinderella at this year’s Ball?  Two very big matchups await us this afternoon.  Will a buzzer beater reverberate around the swamps of Gainesville once again?  Will we be looking at a possible Carolina battle?  Will the Pacific Northwest rise again in the person of Oregon or Gonzaga?

Who will be left boasting around the office water cooler tomorrow morning?  Who’s got Gonzaga?  Did anyone pick Oregon?  Who’s with me on Kentucky? Who’s got the Gators? Are one or more of the Carolina teams still around?  If they are do you have either one of them winning the championship?

The American College Basketball Festival continues today and will come to a thrilling climax next Monday night.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC FINALS

When the United States and Puerto Rico take the field at Dodger Stadium it will be a classic in the making.  Besides the fact that this game is a rematch of an earlier nail biter, the story lines go deeper than the game of baseball.

The USA is the Mother Ship, Puerto Rico is the Territory.  Puerto Rico has representation in the US House of Representatives, yet it has its own flag.  And here is the biggest political kicker, a referendum is scheduled for June of this year to decide what direction the island will take.  The two choices are either apply for statehood, which will possibly make this the last competition between the two entities, or declare its independence as a nation.

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman will take the mound for Team USA this evening and will be opposed by Seth Lugo of the New York Mets.  Stroman could have been part of Team Puerto Rico, but opted to play for the Americans.  As a result, Stroman’s mother has been the subject of harassment on social media by many Puerto Ricans.  This will make for an emotional start for Stroman.  This again, could go way beyond the game of baseball.

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Marcus Stroman will start for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic Finals.

Seth Lugo will return to the Mets camp in Pt. St. Lucie, Florida following the WBC to finish competing for the fifth spot in their rotation.  Tonight, he takes the pride of the territory that either wants to join Big Brother or break away from it on his shoulders.  Yes, this is the biggest start of Lugo’s career, notwithstanding a start on the World Series stage at Citi Field.

Who will be the Classic’s MVP?  Yadier Molina has been arguably the driving force in Puerto Rico’s 7-0 record and a place in the Finals.  Adam Jones and possibly Christian Yelich are candidates from the United States.

So the grand old ballpark set in Southern California’s Chevez Ravine could see another chapter written in its hallowed halls.  Perhaps a ballpark that has been home to Sandy Koufax, Tommy LaSorda, Don Sutton, and Don Drysdale to name a few, can add one of the all time biggest international games to its resume tonight.  Too bad old Vin won’t be in the Dodger Stadium press box to tell everyone in the USA and its extended family in the Caribbean to pull up a chair this evening.  Enjoy the game wherever you may be!

BRACKETOLOGY-AN AMERICAN OBSESSION

This weekend is arguably the second biggest for sports fans on the calendar.  Although Super Bowl weekend is still king,  the first two rounds of the NCAA Basketball Championship is, in my opinion, number two.  When else is it almost appropriate to have the early basketball games minimized on your work computer on a Thursday and Friday afternoon?

For the kids competing in the 68 school event, it’s anywhere from a once in a lifetime chance at fame, to an NBA audition.  What makes this time of year even more intriguing, is the fact that millions of casual fans have an interest in each and every game.

What had begun as a simple office pool in the 1980’s has caught on and become an obsession in America!  The advent of the internet has helped fuel the fire on this.  It is now so easy to log on to any of the hundreds of pools and click away at your predictions.  I began competing in pools when players actually hand wrote there predictions and the moderator of the pool used a photocopier and kept track of the standings by hand!

There is a genius to this. If it wasn’t for my picks, would this sports fan who is originally from New York and lives in South Florida, have any rooting interest in a game involving Duke or Kentucky?

Like most Americans. while I was eating lunch on Thursday I was sitting at my desk watching the first game of the day.  I had Notre Dame going another couple of rounds and continued to watch as Princeton stayed with them.  The Irish would win by two points and had me whispering “Yes!” as time ran out.  I’m not a fan of either school, but Notre Dame was supposed to continue on to the Sweet Sixteen in my world.

Yesterday afternoon the bubble burst for many when Wisconsin took down number one overall Villanova.  A mere hours later Florida State’s loss to Xavier busted more brackets.

Here’s the genius in all of this. If you fill out one of these pool worksheets it gives watching the tournament new meaning.  You have a rooting interest in every game!  Thursday and Friday of the first weekend has everyone interested in all of  the games being played.  This weekend   everyone from the most seasoned  college basketball fan to the receptionist in the office all have a shot at winning.  Everyone is interested during the first weekend of wall to wall basketball games.

During Barack Obama’s term as President, basketball fans looked forward to the unveiling of his bracket on ESPN.  Many are disappointed that President Trump declined to do so this year.  This just shows the enormity of what March Madness has become.

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President Barack Obama fills out his 2009 Presidential Bracket

The question in workplaces throughout the United States and beyond, tomorrow morning will be “how did you do this weekend?”  or “did your bracket get busted by Wisconsin beating Villanova?”  There can be even more questions by day’s end today as number one seeds North Carolina and Kansas are in action.

Just for the record, I’m still alive and well despite Villanova losing yesterday.  I had them losing to Duke in the Elite Eight.  As for Florida State, I had Xavier winning that game.  My Final Four you might ask?  Three of them see action today.  Kentucky, Louisville and Duke all play today.  Gonzaga is safe and sound and in the Sweet Sixteen.

Enjoy the rest of this once a year basketball celebration.  Take out your brackets and take notice as these kids play for a National Championship.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-THE WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC PART II

When I left you last week the boys from the Holy Land were the talk of the World Baseball Classic.  That was before the bigger boys from the west  began play.

In a wild weekend in Miami and Jalisco, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the United States, and the Dominican Republic emerged as winners.  The highlight of the Pool C bracket in Miami was Saturday night’s contest between the USA and the Dominican Republic.  The Americans came out big trying to avenge their semi-final loss in the 2013 classic.  The Red, White, and Blue held a 5-0 advantage in the middle of the sixth inning, that’s when things got interesting.

Manny Machado began the comeback with a solo home run off of Tanner Roark.  Later in the inning, Carlos Santana would single home Robinson Cano making it a 5-2 ballgame.  An RBI double by Wellington Castillo in the seventh drew the Dominicans to within 5-3.

Andrew Miller, who was a main cog in the Cleveland Indians bullpen last year took the mound to begin the 8th.  The Dominicans would tee off on the Indians star.  Home runs by Nelson Cruz (with two aboard) and a solo shot by Stirling Marte capped the comeback and a 7-5 victory.  Both the Americans and the Dominicans advanced out of Pool B and will meet  again in San Diego.  The Dominicans lost their first game in San Diego’s Pool F to Puerto Rico yesterday by the score of 3-1.  The USA sees its first action in Pool F tonight against Venezuela.

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Team Dominican Republic celebrates a comeback victory over the USA.

 

Puerto Rico and Japan are the only undefeated teams remaining in the competition.  The Japanese team ended Israel’s dream this morning (Eastern time) with an 8-3 victory in Tokyo. The boys from the Land of the Rising Sun head to Los Angeles sporting a 6-0 record in the tournament.   Team Israel’s loss to Japan coupled with the Netherlands 15-1 drubbing of Cuba sent the boys from the Holy Land home.  A valiant effort, a wonderful surprise, but Israel ran into a superior squad.

So as of today Team Japan and Team Netherlands head for Los Angeles.  So much baseball is to be played in San Diego between four of the planet’s top teams. Next Wednesday I will preview the Finals.  Look for the blog to print earlier than usual leading into game time at 9:00 Eastern Time.  Until then, grab a beverage, pull up a chair and show your nation’s pride and colors!

 

 

PROFESSIONAL ATHLETES AND INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION-IS IT TOO RISKY?

Kansas City Royals fans and management are cringing this morning.  In a Pool D contest at the World Baseball Classic in Jalisco, Mexico yesterday, Royals catcher Salvador Perez left with an apparent knee injury. He was playing for his native Venezuela. To add insult to injury it was as a result of a home plate collision with his backup in Kansas City, Drew Butera who was trying to score the tying run for Team Italy.  Perez was guarding home plate while Butera was trying to score.  Venezuela won the game 11-10 in ten innings.  The Detroit Tigers are also licking their wounds from this game and that play.  Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez strained his groin while acting as the cutoff man on the play.

Perez will sit out the remainder of the World Baseball Classic and return to the Royals training camp in Arizona.  Initial examination has shown that the knee injury isn’t that serious.

Royals catcher Salvador Perez playing for Team Venezuela at the World Baseball Classic.

This incident made me think back to other situations where professional athletes have been injured while playing in international competitions.

The National Hockey League is leaning towards not participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea for this exact reason.  The owners feel that to close down in the middle of the season to let high-priced players play full tilt for their country has become too much of a risk.

At the Sochi Olympics in 2014 both of New York’s hockey teams took a hit.  The Islanders got a huge scare when all-star center John Tavares, while playing for Team Canada was checked hard into the boards in a game against Latvia.  Tavares had suffered a torn MCL and a torn meniscus.  He was out for the remainder of the Isles 2013-14 season.

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Islanders all-star center John Tavares is helped off the ice while playing for team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

 

Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello also returned home injured.  He suffered a broken hand while playing for Team Norway.  Other injuries in Sochi included Florida Panthers forwards Aleksandr Barkov (playing for Finland) and Tomas Kopecky (playing for Slovakia).  Detroit Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg aggravated a back injury while playing for Team Sweden.

Prior to this year’s season, the NHL and the International Hockey Federation teamed up to stage the World Cup of Hockey.  This tournament is similar to the World Baseball Classic and claimed two of the NHL’s young stars.

Florida Panthers star defenseman Aaron Ekblad left the tournament following what turned out to be a concussion.  He was playing for Team North America.  Panthers ownership pulled him from the competition.  Ekblad was able to open the NHL season for Florida.

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins also had to hold their breath.  Goaltender Matt Murray suffered a thumb injury while also playing for team North America.

So the question remains, are owners and management going to continue to support sending their stars to these tournaments?  Like I’ve said before, I’m all for shuffling the deck and watching professional athletes play for their country.  However, this latest chapter that claimed three players on one play makes me wonder what the answer is.

I am not a fan of preseason tournaments like the WBC and the World Cup of Hockey since the players shouldn’t be playing full tilt yet.  I am a fan of international competition when players are in top shape.  The Olympics have featured NHL and KHL players since 1998 in mid-season form but the rash of injuries in 2014 speaks for itself.  The NBA has sent players to the Olympics since 1992 right after the end of its playoffs.  There haven’t been any major injuries in Olympic basketball competition, however the NBA stars have shied away from the Olympic at times to not risk injury.  Lebron James and Stephan Curry are prime examples, both sat out this past summer’s games in Rio.

So the question remains and the debate will continue without an answer.  International competition is great, but at what cost?

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-THE WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC HAS BEGUN

The World Baseball classic got underway early Monday morning here in the eastern United States when Pool A began the competition in Seoul, South Korea.  No pun intended here but right off the bat this year’s tournament became eventful.

Israel is known as the Holy Land.  Israel is known perhaps as the birthplace of the worlds major faiths.  Israel and baseball? oy vey!, but that is the top story in the early going of this year’s World Baseball Classic.  Team Israel consists mostly of Jewish American Major Leaguers who, upon returning to Israel obtained Israeli citizenship.  They visited Jerusalem earlier this year.

Ike Davis has played for multiple MLB teams. He is currently in the Dodgers organization.

Ike Davis, pictured above drew a tenth inning walk that led to the winning run in Israel’s 2-1 victory over host country South Korea.  Scott Burcham drove in Mike Meyers (who ran for Davis) with the go-ahead run.  Israel has never qualified for the World Baseball Classic before this year.

Late Monday night eastern time (Tuesday afternoon in Seoul) the boys from the Holy Land were at it again.  There were no extra inning heroics needed in this one. Team Israel defeated Chinese Taipei by the score of 15-7.  The 2-0 start for Team Israel has already placed them in the next round. They finish play in Pool A vs. the heavily favored Netherlands.  The Dutch have also advanced already with a 2-0 record.

Seoul was not the only Oriental venue to begin play this week.  Host country Japan has already jumped out to a 2-0 record in Tokyo where Pool B is being contested.  A Japanese team loaded with American and Japanese Major League players defeated Cuba, 11-6 on Tuesday. Team Japan also defeated Australia earlier today by the score of 4-1.  Team Cuba is even at 1-1 followed by Australia and China at 0-1 .

Tomorrow the World Baseball Classic opens for business in the Western Hemisphere.  Miami’s Marlins Park will host perhaps the strongest pool in the competition.  Team USA although always loaded with Major League stars, has yet to win a gold medal at the WBC.  Teams from Canada, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic round out the star-studded field in Pool C.  The Dominicans are the defending champions, having defeated Puerto Rico in the 2013 finals.

Image result for marlins parkMarlins Park in Miami, host venue for Pool C.

Team Puerto Rico, the runner-ups from 2013 will highlight the field in Pool D.  Mexico will host this pool in Jalisco.  Venezuela and Italy round out Pool D.

The boys from the USA see their first action on Friday against Colombia.

In an already eventful tournament there will be lots of international baseball this weekend.  I will be focusing the Wednesday Night Baseball blog on the World Baseball Classic until it concludes.  The finals are set for March 22 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

So wave your country’s flag, don your nation’s colors and enjoy baseball’s version of the World Cup!

GONE TOO SOON

It’s with a heavy heart that I return to the blogging scene this morning.  For those of you who don’t follow me primarily on Facebook, let me fill you in on my recent hiatus.  My son Justin passed away Valentine’s Day morning at the age of 23.  Myself and my family are still reeling from the events of that horrific morning.  Justin, I dedicate this article to you and the wonderful, yet short time you spent walking this earth.

I have spent well over a week trying to figure out how to dive back in to the business of discussing sports and this is what I came up with.  Throughout my many years around the sports world, there were, and still are times of untimely tragedies. Today I look back on the news of athletes who left us in the prime of their careers.

Image result for thurman munsonFront page of the New York Daily News reporting the death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson.

Perhaps my first recollection of a sudden death of a sports figure was on August 2, 1979.  I’ll never forget the bulletin that came over the radio as my family was eating dinner.  Yankees all-star Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash.  At seventeen years old the news was hard to comprehend.  Thurman Munson?? dead??? how???

I’ll never forget the following night when the Yankees returned home to face the Baltimore Orioles.  The scene at the stadium was memorable.  I still can remember all of the flags flying at half-staff over the legendary Yankee Stadium facade.  The Yankees flew back to Munson’s home town of Canton, Ohio on August 6th for his funeral.  Bobby Murcer and Lou Piniella would deliver emotional eulogies that day.

Thurman Munson’s stall in the Yankees locker room remained untouched until the old stadium closed at the end of the 2008 season.  His uniform number 15 is immortalized in the current Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.

Image result for Darryl Kile   Future Cardinals manager Mike Matheny pays homage to Darryl Kile who passed away suddenly on June 22, 2002.

Possibly my favorite time of the week as a baseball fan is Saturday afternoon.  It was always a time to kick back and watch a nationally televised regular season game.  Most times it was between two clubs that I don’t get to see on a day-to-day basis.

On Saturday afternoon June 22, 2002 FOX was going to air a tilt between two long time rivals.  The St. Louis Cardinals were in Chicago for a weekend series against the  Cubs.  I turned on the TV to watch the game and I knew immediately something was wrong.  The players weren’t playing catch, the broadcasters weren’t discussing the upcoming game.  What was being discussed was a player missing from the Cardinals.  Darryl Kile had not shown up at Wrigley Field.  He was supposed to start the following day, and  was supposed to be charting pitches. Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room, he died of a heart attack.  Kile was 33 years old.

The Cardinals kept Kile’s jersey hanging in their dugout the remainder of the 2002 season.  Although his number isn’t officially retired, the Cardinals, and Kile’s previous teams (Colorado Rockies and Houston Astros) have never reissued his number 57.

Image result for Marlins remember Jose FernandezMiami Marlins remember Jose Fernandez, September 26, 2016.

On Sunday morning September 25, 2016, while my wife Robin and I were getting ready to attend the Miami Dolphins home opener, we received the tragic news.  Marlins ace Jose Fernandez and two of his friends were found dead off of Government Cut in Miami Beach overnight.  Their boat had hit a jetty and overturned.  This brought back the horrible news of that late afternoon in 1979 all over again.  Jose Fernandez??? really??? can’t be!

I’ll never forget driving along the Florida Turnpike on the way to Hard Rock Stadium that day.  We should have been listening to Dolphins pregame, but that morning that home opener took a very distant back burner.  The Dolphins held a chilling moment of silence prior to their game with the Cleveland Browns.  The Miami Heat would don warmup jerseys bearing Fernandez’ number 16 prior to a preseason tilt with the Brooklyn Nets a few days later.  Robin and I were in the building at the BB&T Center for the Florida Panthers season opener a couple of weeks later, the Cats also warmed up wearing number 16.

The Marlins would return to action the following day to play the New York Mets at Marlins Park.  The team would wear number 16 in Jose’s honor.  I’ll never forget Dee Gordon’s leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning.  Gordon was bawling as he ran the bases and had to be consoled by his teammates as he crossed home plate.  Following the game the team surrounded the pitcher’s mound where Fernandez brought the South Florida community so much joy.

I can go on about a few others, but we would need a volume of articles to do that.  I still remember Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltender Pelle Lindbergh passing away in a horrific car crash.  What hockey fan can ever forget the horrible news out of Russia when KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s plane crashed killing the entire team (which included former NHL stars Brad McCrimmon and Pavel Demitra)?  There was also a stormy afternoon growing up in the shadow of New York’s Kennedy Airport when I heard what I thought was a clap of thunder.  The clap turned out to be a plane crash that took the life of New York Nets player Wendell Ladner.  Ladner’s ABA championship ring was found in the wreckage.

They say that death is part of the circle of life, but life is meant to be full and long. Twenty-three years is way too short.  Losing a child is just not natural. Rest in peace my son, I love you and miss you.

A gofundme account has been set up in Justin’s honor, the proceeds of which will be donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  To contribute, please go to http://www.gofundme.com and search “Justin Tyler Karpel.”  If we can save even one life, it would prevent at least one other family from going though the same thing we are.  Thank you.