Monthly Archives: June 2017

A NEW ERA DAWNS IN VEGAS

This past Wednesday night the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas was abuzz with excitement and anticipation.  This was the NHL’s answer to the Oscars, the night that the league’s best player, best goaltender, and best defenseman were to be recognized (among many other categories).  The NHL Awards Night has been such an overwhelming success in recent years that the NBA has also followed suit.

This year’s event had a once in a lifetime dimension for those who were locals in America’s desert playground.  You see, the NHL will be expanding to 31 franchises this coming year.  Team number 31 will be residing in Las Vegas!  I often rip commissioner Gary Bettman for his less than stellar ideas surrounding the sport of hockey. This time I think the NHL got it right!  On a night where the new Vegas Golden Knights’ fan base got to see the makeup of its team, those of us rooting for the other 30 clubs were on the edge of our seats too. Seeing it play out on national television in the United States and Canada was, in my opinion, pure genius.

Last weekend, the thirty established teams had to submit a list of players that they protected from the expansion draft.  That’s when the drama began.  Leading up to Wednesday’s awards show & expansion draft there were rumors running wild all over social media.  What was going on behind the scenes was a series of negotiations between Golden Knights general manager George McPhee and the other thirty clubs.  Just because a player was unprotected, he wasn’t fair game for Vegas to pluck.  By the time the Vegas roster was revealed, hockey fans in two countries were tuned in and paying attention.

Image result for vegas golden knights

Logo of the brand new Vegas Golden Knights.

The dramatic events of this past week surrounding the NHL brought back memories of other expansions.  There is so much newness surrounding an expansion team. There is the novelty of a new market with new fans that are being introduced to a sport and a league.  In a place like Las Vegas, where there is a noticeable percentage of transplants from other cities, it could be a sight for sore eyes.  This was my experience when baseball and hockey expanded to South Florida in the early 1990’s.  I also see the excitement in a couple of dear friends who left New York for Vegas years ago.  These friends were season ticket holders for the New York Rangers for many years before they moved west. They’ve already bought season tickets for the Golden Knights and are supporting the new franchise.

Marc-Andre Fleury received the loudest ovation from the new Vegas faithful on Wednesday night.  The former Pittsburgh Penguin, and three-time Stanley Cup champion is already the face of this franchise.  This brought me back to my 1972 when Long Island’s Nassau County and Atlanta were the new kids on the block.  A wide-eyed ten-year old was awestruck when the New York Islanders picked Eddie Westfall from the Boston Bruins.  Westfall would be the face of the franchise for about a year.  Denis Potvin would join the Islanders the following year via the draft.  The Islanders would have multiple faces in their first decade.

Image result for marc andre fleury

Marc-Andre Fleury, the face of the original Vegas Golden Knights.

Fast forward to 1993, the year the Florida Panthers were born.  To me, the most memorable selection in the expansion draft was goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck.  The steady netminder was selected from the New York Rangers.  Even to this lifelong Islanders fan, embracing The Beezer was a natural. South Florida’s ties to New York made this pick a natural.  Vanbiesbrouck would be a three-time all-star in South Florida, and the backstop to the 1996 Eastern Conference Champions.

Image result for john vanbiesbrouck

Original Florida Panthers’ John Vanbiesbrouck.

Enjoy the ride Las Vegas!  This October your new team hits the ice.  Congratulations to owner Bill Foley and general manager George McPhee for a job well done.  Good luck to head coach Gerard Gallant and his staff.  Onward with a new era in the National Hockey League and the metropolitan area of Las Vegas.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

THE KINGS OF THE NO-HITTER

This afternoon at Marlins Park in Miami a low profile noontime contest between the Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals almost made history.  For seven and a third innings Nats’ starter Max Scherzer held the Fish hitless.  His dominant performance showed no sign of being stopped either.  Marlins catcher A.J. Ellis was the first Marlin to touch Scherzer .  With one out in the eighth, Ellis hit a ground ball that deflected off of the Washington hurler toward shortstop Trea Turner.  Ellis would beat out the infield hit and end the no-hit bid.  The Marlins would go on to win the game by the score of 2-1.

You may be asking why a no-hit bid that was broken up by an infield single (and became a loss for Scherzer) was targeted for the record books.  Scherzer pitched two no-hitters back in 2015. If he would have gotten the last five Marlins without a hit, the Nationals’ hurler would have joined some elite company.

Image result for max scherzer

Max Scherzer came within five outs of his third career no-hitter today.

Only five pitchers in Major League Baseball history have three or more of these gems to their credit.  Larry Corcoran, who pitched in the 1880’s for a Chicago team that predated the Cubs and White Sox, was the first to pitch three no-hitters.  Cy Young and Bob Feller also authored no-hitters three times in their careers. Corcoran, Young, and Feller all have plaques in Cooperstown.

Image result for Bob Feller

Bob Feller threw three no-hitters in his Hall of Fame career.

The other two pitchers that hit the three no-hitter plateau went on to do it again.  Sandy Koufax threw four of them, including a perfect game.  The all-time career no-hitter king is Nolan Ryan with an amazing seven of them!

Image result for nolan ryan

Nolan Ryan pitched seven career no-hitters.

Marlins Park has already been the site of one no-hitter this year.  On June 3rd, Miami’s Edinson Volquez no-hit the Arizona Diamondbacks.  That’s the beauty of the game of baseball, where else can history be made on a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of the season?

SPORTS-A BOND BETWEEN FATHER AND SON

I want to begin today’s article by wishing all my fellow fathers, as well as the single mom’s who fill both rolls, a Happy and Healthy Father’s Day.  To me, this is an extra special Father’s Day as I welcome my son-in-law Matt to the ranks!  Welcome aboard son!

Today, I continue my thoughts from Wednesday, but this chapter is on a personal level.  I will reflect back on the first sporting event that I shared with my father, David Karpel.

Image result for shea stadium

Shea Stadium in New York, as it looked in 1969 when I went to my first ballgame with my father.

I take you back to the summer or 1968, when my older brother (we are a mere 15 months apart in age) had an opportunity to go to his first Mets game.  I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t go too.  My father and mother thought that Shea Stadium was no place for six-year-old.  It was one of a very few times when our fine line in age ever came into play.   That disappointment waned very quickly. A year later I came of age, and in the summer of 1969, my dad, and his two oldest sons were off to the big ballpark in Flushing.

Looking back on that wonderful summer day, during that unforgettable year as a Mets fan, how special it was!  I had so many questions!  The Mets were playing the San Francisco Giants that afternoon, and this wide-eyed seven-year old boy was full of questions.  Is that Willie Mays?, is that really Gaylord Perry taking the mound?  Where’s Tom Seaver?  How come nobody is announcing the game?  Dad had an answer for everything that day.

Image result for 1969 New York Mets program and scorecard

It was in the centerfold of a New York Mets Program & Scorecard where my father taught me to keep score of a baseball game.

 

The one thing that intrigued me the most that day was when we entered the ballpark. There was a guy selling programs at the entrance.  My dad didn’t hesitate to buy one. He always did and I found out why that afternoon.  As I looked up at the massive right field scoreboard I noticed the out of town scoreboards, as well as the lineups using the players’ uniform numbers.  My dad was looking at the lineups and writing the players names and positions down in order of when they were going to hit.  It was then that he showed me what a scorecard looked like.  As the game went on he would record each player’s at bat. I spent most of my childhood years keeping score of baseball games using what I learned that day.   I passed the art of keeping score to my son years later.

Image result for shea stadium scoreboard

Right field scoreboard at Shea Stadium as it looked in 1969.

I don’t remember who won that game.  I do remember that future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry started for the Giants and Gary Gentry started for the Mets.  We all know of the magical ride that the Mets took their fans on in the latter stages of the 1969 season, but that one Saturday afternoon will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I dedicate this article to you, Dad.  Thank you for not only teaching me about the fun and games of the sports world, but about life and how to live it.  You were tough on me as a kid at times. The toughness that came from both you and Mom has molded me into the caring and loving father and grandfather that I am today.

 

A FATHER’S RITE OF PASSAGE

Given the fact that we will be celebrating Father’s Day this coming Sunday, I decided to reflect on how baseball has affected me, both as a son and a father.  There is no sport that bonds a father with his family together like baseball.  Hockey and football have that high energy “rah, rah” mentality and basketball has its showmanship an individual theatrics.  Baseball, however, has that slow pace and lends itself to conversation during the game.  There is the drama of anticipation, there is the thrill of a home run, the circus catch (as former Mets voice Lindsay Nelson use to call them) and the stolen base.  It is also the sport where a child can ask his or her dad a question about the game or about its history.

Baseball is handed down from generation to generation, mostly by dads to their children. In my family there is the tale of three generations and five different teams.

Image result for ebbets field

Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, NY.  Where my father spent much of his childhood watching his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers.  This iconic ballpark was demolished before I was born.

 

My father grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and as most of the borough during his childhood he was a die-hard Dodgers fan.  He spent quite a bit of his childhood years at Ebbets Field cheering  on his beloved Dodgers.  This is where he learned the grand old game.  He never forgave the Dodgers for leaving Brooklyn for Los Angeles.

The Dodgers and Giants have a storied rivalry that began in New York City and continues to this day in California.  My father in law grew up in Manhattan and rooted for the Giants at the Polo Grounds.  As a result, my wife was exposed to the other side of the war between the boroughs.

The common ground that came out of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry was the fact that both fathers handed the game down to my generation rooting for New York’s new team.

Image result for ebbets field

Shea Stadium in Flushing, NY.  Where I learned all about baseball.

The sting of the Dodgers heading to Los Angeles, and the Giants leaving New York for San Francisco following the 1957 season left a void for both fan bases.  New York would be home exclusively to the American League Yankees from 1958-1961. This was little solace to the old National League fans, who frankly, were also rivals to the Yankees.

That all changed in 1962 when the expansion New York Mets took the field for the first time.  Old Dodger fans, like my dad and old Giant fans like my father in law came together to rally around New York’s new National League team.

The expansion Mets became the team of my generation.  Growing up in Queens, becoming a Mets fan was a natural.  Shea Stadium became my school of baseball.  That came courtesy of some fatherly teaching from the old Ebbets Field Bleacher Bum known as Daddy.  The same was true for both of my brothers.  My older brother took a liking to the Yankees, and has since passed his knowledge of the Pinstripes to his son.  That old Giants fan would hand all he knew to my wife and brother-in-law in the same hallowed halls of Shea Stadium.

In 1989 my wife and I relocated to South Florida.  After four years with only having big league baseball during Spring Training, South Florida was awarded an expansion team. As luck would have it, the new Florida Marlins would begin play in the National League in 1993.

Image result for Joe Robbie Stadium for Baseball

The ballpark that has had many names in Miami (currently its Hard Rock Stadium) where I taught my children the game of baseball.

My wife and I passed the torch to our son and daughter during the late 1990’s.  We would spend a couple of nights a year at Marlin games at their original ballpark.  We were season ticket holders for three years following the 2003 World Championship run.

As a father, no baseball season stands out more than the wonderful year of 2003.  My son, Justin and I attended many games together (just us, guys nights out). No night was more magical in that old ballpark then a late September Friday in that wonderful year.  On that night we witnessed history.  The Marlins defeated, oddly enough, the Mets, to clinch the National League Wild Card.  The crowd was in such a frenzy following the game that the ramps from the concourses to the ground were literally shaking.

During the 2003 postseason our family attended games in the Division Series and Championship Series. Additionally, I was in the ballpark along with my wife and Justin for Game 4 of the World Series.  Everyone was watching what they thought was Roger Clemens’ final start.  When Clemens exited the game he received a standing ovation from the fans, the Yankees and the Marlins.  I still get goosebumps recalling my explanation to Justin of what he was witnessing.  “We are saying thank you to a legend”  I told him.

With the birth of my granddaughter this past April, I can’t wait to see my son-in-law pass the game on to her.

I fondly recall going to see the Mets with my brothers, my father, and my grandfather.  I can still hear the arguments between my father and grandfather over who was going to pay for parking.  I cannot wait to join my children and grandchildren at the old ballgame!

I dedicate tonight’s blog to my father, David Karpel who taught me so much about the game of baseball, among many other life lessons.  I also dedicate this article to my daughter Megan, my son-in-law, Matt, my granddaughter Madeline, and lastly my beloved son, Justin who we lost this past February.  You guys are my world!

 

A SPORTS TRADITION LIKE NO OTHER

This coming week, or possibly tonight, there will be an annual event that never gets old.  The Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins will meet in the Music City tonight for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.  With the Penguins holding a 3-2 series lead, it sets up the possibility that the Stanley Cup will be presented this evening.  If the Predators win tonight, the Stanley Cup will be presented on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

You might be wondering what is so magical about the awarding of a championship trophy?

First off, it’s the only championship trophy in professional sports that is a one of a kind.  The Commissioner’s Trophy, Vince Lombardi Trophy, as well as the Larry O’Brien Trophy are all manufactured every year.  These three trophies all wind up in permanent possession of the teams that won them.  The Stanley Cup is the only championship trophy that has been in existence longer than the league that competes for it.

Image result for is the Stanley Cup the only championship trophy that is reused

The Montreal Canadiens have won more Stanley Cup championships than any other team (24).

The presentation of the Stanley Cup is very unique, and to this writer, never gets old regardless of who wins it.  It’s the only trophy that is awarded to the team captain, rather than the team’s owner.  The captain hoists the Cup above his head and sometimes will kiss it.  The winning team then parades the Cup around the rink handing it from player to player.  Coaches, general managers, and injured players have all taken part in this victory lap and have had the honor of hoisting the legendary trophy.

When all is said and done between Nashville and Pittsburgh, players from both teams will have their names inscribed on the Stanley Cup.  The winners names will appear on the outside, the losers on the inside.  The other three trophies will land in the trophy case at the winner’s offices for ever after.  The winners of the Stanley Cup will spend the off-season taking turns with the Stanley Cup itself.  When next year begins it will return to the Professional Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Image result for 2015 Blackhawks bring Stanley Cup to Wrigley Field

The 2015 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks take the Stanley Cup to Wrigley Field.

The Stanley Cup has been all over the world over the years.  It’s been to the White House, and it has been to Russia.  It’s been paraded up New York City’s Canyon of Heroes, and in Hollywood.  The New York Islanders made it a tradition during it’s iconic four-year run to take it out to dinner.

 

Image result for Wayne Gretzky drinks from the Stanley Cup

The Great One, Wayne Gretzky drinks champagne from the Stanley Cup.

 

Being that the trophy is a cup, it is a tradition for players to drink the celebratory champagne from the Cup itself.

Will the Stanley Cup reside in Steeltown or in the Music City?  That will play out today and/or Wednesday.  The Canadian capital for country music had their turn with Lord Stanley’s Cup in 1989 when the Calgary Flames won it.  Will Nashville get their turn this year?

LOOKING BACK AT NOTHING IN BASEBALL

I begin this morning’s blog by re-winding ever so slightly to yesterday afternoon.  While my wife an I were visiting with our daughter and her family (including our beautiful granddaughter), my ESPN App notification went off.  As those of you who get notifications from ESPN can relate to the notification said that Marlins pitcher Edison Volquez had not allowed a hit through six innings.  Honestly, I don’t take these headlines seriously until around the eighth inning.  Sure enough, the notifications kept coming.

On our way home we were listening to the local broadcast of the game.  This is where it got intense.  Volquez faced the minimum 27 Diamondbacks batters, and polished off his first ever no-hitter by striking out the side in the ninth inning.  It was the sixth no-hitter in Marlins franchise history.

I began to really think about what had happened at Marlins Park on this rainy South Florida afternoon.  It was a minor piece of Major League Baseball history, one that will be etched in Marlins team lore forever after.  I started to reflect back at how a no-hitter can be a highlight for any fan base, even if they are at the bottom of the standings.  One game, one gem, and usually by one pitcher.  For that moment, for that day a pitcher is etched in history.

Image result for Edinson Volquez no-hitter

Miami Marlins pitcher Edinson Volquez is mobbed by his teammates following his no-hit shutout of the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday.

 

The first and only time that I witnessed one of these pitching rarities was on September 6, 2003.  I had witnessed bits and pieces of many no-hitters before then.  I’ve seen the pitcher finish and be mobbed by his teammates and the celebration afterwards.  The only time I witnessed a no-hitter from beginning to end, was from the right field stands at what is now Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.  My family had partial season tickets in the old ballpark, this contest with oddly enough, the Arizona Diamondbacks was on our ticket plan.  My son was working that night, and my wife was unable to go to the game.  I went to the game by myself (which I have been known to do).

Anibal Sanchez took the mound for the then Florida Marlins that night.  I glanced up at the scoreboard after the fourth inning and happened to notice that the D-Backs had not gotten a base hit yet.  I thought to myself, OK it’s only the fourth inning, but it put me in tune to what might be happening.  I don’t remember what inning, or what out it was, but I do remember left fielder Josh Willingham making a diving and sliding catch.  Most no-hitters and perfect games have big plays by the defense, yesterday was no exception.

Willingham’s gem got me even more excited.  I called my wife somewhere in the middle of the game and asked her if she was watching.  I then told her that Sanchez was “pitching a really good game!”  It’s considered bad luck to utter the words “no-hitter” during the game.  The final out that night was a ground ball to Miguel Cabrera at third,  Miggy threw the ball across the diamond to Mike Jacobs at first to complete Sanchez’s history making gem.  The roar of the crowd at the old stadium rivaled that of the night that the Marlins clinched the Wild Card in 2003.  For that brief moment the Marlins and Anibal Sanchez were the story of baseball.

Image result for nolan ryan

Nolan Ryan pitched a record seven no-hitters in his Hall of Fame career.

 

The no-hitter has put many pitchers on the historical map of Major League Baseball, but no hurler says no-hitter more than Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.  Ryan pitched 7 such gems in his career, spanning both leagues and three teams.  Ryan pitched for the New York Mets early in his career but didn’t throw is firs no-hitter until he was a member of the California Angels.

Image result for don larsen's perfect game

Yankees Don Larsen is embraced by catcher Yogi Berra following the only perfect game in World Series history.

There have been two no-hitters in postseason history.  On October 6, 2010, Roy Halliday of the Philadelphia Phillies pitched a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.  On October 8, 1956, New York Yankees’ pitcher was perfect against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the World Series.  Perfect games are an even bigger rarity, and a subject for another time.

A baseball season can come and go without a pitcher having a unique day like Edinson Volquez had in Miami yesterday.  Other years can have multiple no-no’s.  To this writer the no-hitter and the perfect game will always be a special achievement.  Congratulations Edinson!

 

A program note….Due to family commitments I will not be publishing a Wednesday Night Baseball blog this week.  See you next Sunday!