Monthly Archives: February 2018

ARE BETTER TIMES ACTUALLY AHEAD IN MIAMI?

When last I left you on the baseball stage, the Houston Astros were putting the finishing touches on their first ever World Series Championship. Houston walked away with the Commissioner’s Trophy after an epic seven game World Series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After an interesting winter, baseball returned two weeks ago when players arrived at training camps in Florida and Arizona. This has always been a beacon of warmer and lighter days on the horizon. Nothing says that the laid back days of summer is on its way like the beginning of Spring Training!

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The defending World Series Champion Houston Astros begin Spring Training in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Once the streets of Houston had been cleaned up following the Astros victory parade, the focus turned to the new ownership of the Miami Marlins. Following the regular season, the Marlins were sold to an ownership group led by businessman Bruce Sherman and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. The Marlins fan base busted into celebration upon hearing the news that Jeffrey Loria would be leaving the South Florida sports scene.

The celebration wouldn’t last long, however. Jeter, who is handling the baseball side of the business took over and cleaned house. Marlins icons Jeff Conine, Tony Perez, Jack McKeon and Andre Dawson were all given the choice of taking lesser roles in the new organization or being relieved of their duties. All four opted to leave the organization, and longtime television voice Rich Waltz would be next on the chopping block. Needless to say, Jeter went from hero to villain very quickly. This, however was a mere preamble to what was to come.

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Giancarlo Stanton was dealt by the Miami Marlins to the New York Yankees in early December.

Just before Christmas, National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton was traded to the New York Yankees in exchange for infielder Starlin Castro and two prospects, including pitcher Jose Guzman. Keep Guzman in the back of your mind for now.

As if the departure of Stanton, his MVP season and his 59 home runs wasn’t enough, Jeter’s pre-holiday shopping wasn’t done. A few days later, left fielder Marcell Ozuna was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for a package of prospects. This haul was headlined by pitcher Sandy Alcantara and outfielder Magneuris Sierra. Again, put these two names along side Jose Guzman.

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Marcell Ozuna was dealt by the Marlins to the St. Louis Cardinals a few days after Stanton went to New York.

Following the two blockbuster deals center-fielder Christian Yelich expressed his displeasure regarding the departure of Stanton and Ozuna. Yelich wanted no part of a rebuild and wanted out. Jeter wanted to keep Yelich as part of the new world order in Marlindom but following the holidays he began shopping him. In late January the final piece of arguably the best outfield in the National League was shipped to the Milwaukee Brewers. The centerpiece of the deal was outfielder Lewis Brinson. Brinson, a Broward County native is one of the top prospects in baseball.

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Christian Yelich was dealt to Milwaukee in late January.

Prior to the outfield purge, stolen base champion Dee Gordon was traded to the Seattle Mariners for a prospect package headlined by pitcher Nick Neidert.

The outrage rang from Homestead to Jupiter. What is Jeter doing? Why is he parting with most of the pieces of a team that finished in second place and really just needed some pitching?

I have to admit that I joined the outrage at first, until I actually heard the Captain out.

First off, the huge contract that Loria strapped the new owners with is simply unrealistic. Here’s a bit of advice to Yankee fans, don’t get used to the new generation of the M&M Boys. The toxic 13 year contract that Loria signed Stanton to will continue to escalate in value. He will get insanely expensive in the next few years. Nobody will be able to keep a competitive payroll with Stanton’s contract in the middle of it.

Secondly, Loria left town with an organization in tatters. The big club did include arguably the best player in baseball, and the top outfield in the National League. Dee Gordon is one of the top catalysts in baseball, Justin Bour and JT Realmuto are both rising stars. Beyond that facade Loria left the Marlins strapped. Following the tragic death of Jose Fernandez the pitching staff became average to below average. There was nothing in the tank in a once loaded farm system.

The Marlins, despite the rising offense, still finished eight games below .500 in 2017. The second place finish in the National League East was very deceiving since they finished a full 20 games behind division champion Washington. The franchise has not had a winning season since 2009.

Since Jeter appeared on the scene in South Florida he has been preaching building an organization from the bottom up. Let’s take all those names that were put to the side earlier and see what he accomplished.

Starlin Castro, who was not too thrilled about his new team at first, looked and saw for himself what he was working with. The former Yankee all-star was very impressed. Alcantara, Guzman and Neidert are all top pitching prospects. Alcantara could be the Marlins ace in the next couple of years.

Sierra could be in the starting lineup on Opening Day, and could be the next Dee Gordon with a little more power. Finally, the crown jewel of the South Beach haul has to be Lewis Brinson. The Coral Springs native is Major League ready and is expected to be the centerpiece of the heart of the Marlins order alongside Bour and Realmuto.

My message to my fellow Marlins fans, yes we’ve been through this more times than most fans, but take heart, Jeter means business. He’s in this for the long haul. Get used to the names folks, unlike the Huizinga, Henry, and Loria years, this is the beginning of something permanent. Embrace this new squad, you’re going to like what you are about to see. These guys are here to stay!

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SPORTS AND TRAGEDIES-A SOURCE OF HEALING AND ESCAPE

Following my last article which was written on Super Bowl Sunday, I went on hiatus to tend to some family business. I know that I promised a return of this past Wednesday, however circumstances moved it back until today. My wife and I were visiting my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter last week. The first anniversary of my son, Justin’s death was last Wednesday. Yes, it was Wednesday February 14, the same day that fourteen students and three staff members were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

We were at our daughter’s house when the news broke. We were far away from our home which is roughly a fifteen minute drive from the school, but it still struck very close to home to all of us. The events of February 14th that rocked Parkland, Broward County, South Florida and all of the United States led to the delay of my return.

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One of many vigils held around South Florida following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

In the middle of all this craziness, I would be remiss if I didn’t congratulate the Super Bowl 52 champion Philadelphia Eagles!

Here’s is the reason why I failed to published on Wednesday. Broward County’s only professional sports team, the NHL’s Florida Panthers were on their longest road trip of the season when the shooting occurred. As many of you hockey fans here in the east know, there is a long road swing to Western Canada that all of our teams have on our schedules.

The Panthers began their road swing in Edmonton last Monday. Florida is in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, and the trip began on a high note. In a wild game the Florida defeated the Oilers 7-5, little did anyone know that the rest of this trip would turn very different, and a playoff berth would take a distant back seat.

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The Vancouver Canucks hold a moment of silence prior to their game with the Florida Panthers on the night of the Stoneman Douglas shooting.

On Wednesday, the Panthers, much like myself and my family got the news from afar. The team was on the second stop of their Western Canadian tour. They were diagonally across North America in Vancouver when the story broke. Many of the Florida Panthers and their staff live in and around Parkland. The BB&T Center in Sunrise, the Panthers home, is a stone’s throw south along the Sawgrass Expressway from Stoneman Douglas High School. The team’s practice facility is located in the neighboring town of Coral Springs.

Not only did the Panthers show up to the Rogers Arena in Vancouver that night, they won a very big game in the standings. Stops in Calgary, Winnipeg, and Toronto awaited the team before being able to head home and tend to the community. The NHL being a big family supported the traveling Cats. Moments of silence were held in both Calgary and Toronto in addition to the one in Vancouver.

So here’s why I didn’t publish on Wednesday. The Panthers were due to return home this past Thursday. I am a Florida Panthers season ticket holder, so I decided to return with a chronicle of Thursday night’s events.

Thursday night’s game between the Panthers and the Washington Capitals was played in an atmosphere unlike any other hockey game I have ever attended. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the BB&T Center, there is a huge plaza located outside of the arena. On game nights, the plaza, known as the Jet Blue Runway is usually abuzz with music and games. It was relatively quiet on this night outside the arena. The three massive flagpoles that normally proudly fly the American flag, the Florida State flag, and the Florida Panthers flag were eerily at half mast. The only sounds were made by fans chattering and BB&T Center staff directing people and announcing the building’s security policies.

When I got inside I was greeted by a combination of Stoneman Douglas students and Panthers cheerleaders donning Stoneman Douglas t-shirts. My usual next stop was the team’s 50/50 raffle. Tonight the proceeds of the raffle would go to the MSD Fund to aid the victims. With the help of the NHL the jackpot soared to over $97,000! There was also a silent auction, a separate donation booth, and a blood drive being held.

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Panthers star goaltender, and Parkland resident Roberto Luongo addresses the crowd at the BB&T Center and everywhere else where people were watching, 2/22/18.

The victims of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting’s names are projected onto the BB&T Center ice during a stirring pre-game ceremony.

The pregame ceremony was one that will stay with me for a very long time, possibly for as long as I live. It opened with a video depicting all seventeen victims, one at a time, on the giant video board at center ice. Panthers broadcaster Randy Moeller was the emcee of an emotional, tear-jerking program that featured the victims names projected onto the ice. Moeller’s portion of the ceremony ended with him asking the crowd to pause for silent devotion, during which the arena went dark.

Following the devotion time, Panthers’ goaltender Roberto Luongo skated from the bench to the ice. I thought that he was leading the team onto the ice and that the ceremony was over. Boy was I wrong! Luongo took to the mic and addressed the crowd. The Parkland resident and future Hall of Famer choked back tears as he told all that were listening that he has been a resident for 12 years and will continue to live there the rest of his life. He wrapped up his remarks by telling Parkland residents that the Panthers organization is there for anything anyone in the community needs.

The Panthers did a great job of rallying around the South Florida community on Thursday night. One thing that seemed very strange was the absence of advertisements. The usual advertisements along the boards and on the scoreboard were replaced by MSD Stong signs. The Panthers organization made it clear that this was a night for healing and remembrance.

Then came the game itself. Luongo fresh off the emotional speech in the pre-game ceremony, was dominant. He stopped 33 of 35 shots in the game, including a first period in which he admitted later on that he wasn’t in the zone. I certainly didn’t notice.

Panthers’ rookie Maxim Mamin scored his first NHL goal to open the scoring on this emotional night. Florida captain (and Parkland resident) Derek MacKenzie energized the already emotional crowd when he mixed it up with Brooks Orpick.

Washington took a 2-1 lead into the third period. Florida seemed like they just couldn’t solve Capital goaltender Braden Holtby through most of the final stanza. Then it happened!

It is on nights like this that the unexpected tends to happen. What began to unfold late in the third period brought me back to a late September night in New York’s Shea Stadium in 2001. With about four minutes left in the game Aleksander Barkov took the puck from around the center ice area and skated through what seemed to be the entire Capitals lineup (I’m sure that I’m exaggerating). Barkov fired a shot that deflected off of the skate of Nick Bjugstad and into the net! The BB&T Center was electric!, can they pull this off in overtime?

Keep that night in New York aside for a moment. With 52 seconds remaining in the third period, Washington’s Lars Eller was called for an interference penalty. The Panthers power play had been on a tear through most of the Canadian road swing. The power play unit made history on this night.

In 2001, at Shea Stadium in New York, the Mets hosted the first sporting event in the city since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That game ended with the now iconic walk off home run by Mike Piazza to defeat the Atlanta Braves. On this night in Sunrise, at the first sporting event in Broward County since the tragedy in Parkland, the Florida Panthers did the same thing.

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Florida Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck scores the winning goal with 18.7 seconds remaining to defeat the Washington Capitals during the first sporting event in Broward County following the shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

With time running out in regulation defenseman Keith Yandle fed Jonathan Huberdeau in the Washington zone. Huberdeau would shoot the puck which was deflected into the net by Vincent Trocheck with 18.7 seconds remaining! The Florida Panthers, down 2-1 with a little more than three minutes left on the clock, would not be denied! What a night for South Florida! What a night for Parkland!

Much like Mike Piazza’s heroics in 2001 was a shot in the arm for all New Yorkers, Trocheck’s goal was just as strong for South Florida. It capped the longest, strangest road home for the Panthers. It gave all of those associated with the Parkland school something to cheer about. I’ll never forget the release I felt when that puck went past Holtby and into the net. It was unlike any goal I’ve ever witnessed, including Bob Nystrom’s overtime goal that won the New York Islanders their first ever Stanley Cup. It truly went beyond hockey. It was a notice to a community. It was a temporary escape from a dark reality.

There is an organization located not far from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that is near and dear to me and my family. They have helped Robin and I tremendously in dealing with our grief. The Bobby Resciniti Healing Hearts Foundation is an organization that helps families that have lost children. I don’t know where my family would be without them in dealing with Justin’s loss. The tragedy in Parkland has left 17 families in the same position. Resciniti and his staff have already gotten the ball rolling in welcoming those directly affected by the shooting on February 14th. To me, grief counselling is an essential part of the healing process, and the Healing Hearts staff are the best there is.

I dedicate this article to many people. I know this has been a long blog but please bear with me. First off I dedicate this to all 17 victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I further dedicate this to my son Justin Karpel who passed away exactly one year prior to the shooting. I also dedicate this to the following angels who are with the victims as well as my son, they are Stevie, Matthew, Paul, Nikayla, Christina, and Domenic.

HAS AMERICA’S SPECTACLE LOST ITS LUSTER?

So here we are again on the first Sunday in February. It’s America’s unofficial party holiday, the junk-food and wing fest known as Super Bowl Sunday.

I would like to begin by wishing both the Eagles and Patriots luck as they square off tonight at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. This is the tropical paradise known as Minnesota’s second time around as Super Bowl hosts. Minneapolis became the first northern venue to host the NFL showcase when the Metrodome (which stood on the same ground) hosted Super Bowl 26 in 1992. The Redskins defeated the Bills in that game.

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US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis will be the backdrop for Super Bowl 52.

Over the past two weeks I have witnessed an interesting phenomenon among football fans. I like to refer to it as football fans becoming Patweary. Yes, outside of the corridor that runs from Maine to Connecticut known as New England, America has grown tired of the success of the New England Patriots.

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Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have been the cornerstones of the New England Patriots since 2001.

Many teams, in many sports, have dominated over extended periods of time. None more than baseball’s New York Yankees or hockey’s Montreal Canadiens. However, what the New England Patriots have accomplished is so staggering, frankly, America has grown tired of it.

Bill Belichick was hired by Patriots owner Robert Kraft following the 2000 season. Tom Brady was forced into action early in the 2001 campaign due to a season ending injury to Drew Bledsoe. The rest of the story continues to amaze, and annoy many. Under Belichick’s leadership, and Brady’s quarterbacking, the Patriots defeated the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl in 2001. Since the two have been together, New England has missed the post-season twice (2002 & 2008). They have appeared in 8 Super Bowls (including today) and have won five of them (pending today’s results).

The Philadelphia Eagles will have their second Super Bowl shot at the Patriots today. Brady and Belichick’s Patriots defeated an Eagles team led by Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb in Super Bowl 39 by the score of 24-21.

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The Patriots and Eagles met in Super Bowl 39. New England won 24-21.

So here’s where Patweariness comes into play. As the Patriots finished up their AFC Championship victory with a late touchdown, the rumblings began. The Jacksonville Jaguars led, even dominated New England throughout most of the contest. The Patriots were called for a grand total of 1 penalty. 1 penalty in a hard-fought conference championship game? Seems odd to myself and many other football fans outside of New England! There were questionable calls on Jacksonville at some key moments during the game as well. Combine that with a questionable call in a late season game with the eventual second seeded Pittsburgh Steelers that cost Pittsburgh the number one seed, there are many questions by fans outside of the extreme Northeast.

Have the Patriots earned the right to get these calls? Have the officials helped the Brady and Belichick Show along the way? There is no way to know for sure, and it would be irresponsible of me to comment on it either way. What I will say is, among many avid football fans there is a tone of, well Patweariness going around. Many have said they will skip tonight’s game with the notion that “the Patriots are going to win anyway!”

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The World Champion 2008 Phillies were the last team from Philadelphia to win a major championship. They would win the National League Championship the following year and lose to the Yankees in the World Series.

I for one, WILL be watching tonight’s proceedings. One thing the world of sports theater has taught me, is nothing is for certain. The flip-side of the ho-humness of another potential Patriots Super Bowl victory is the fact that the Eagles are back for the first time since Super Bowl 39 in 2005. The last time the City of Brotherly Love had a championship to get excited about was in 2009 when the Phillies lost the World Series to another dominant franchise, the New York Yankees. The Phillies did bring home the Commissioner’s Trophy the year before that.

Here’s hoping that the Eagles put a fly in the ointment tonight. Here’s a fun fact about the Patriots,New England has faced one opponent in their incredible Super Bowl run more than once. They faced the New York Giants in Super Bowls 42 & 44. The Patriots lost them both. Can they pull off a second win against the Eagles? Will the NFC East spoil another New England Chowder Fest this year? Please tune in tonight, and stay away from Patweariness!