Category Archives: #chicagocubs

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.

 

HAVE SPORTS VENUES BECOME DISPOSABLE?

As the Atlanta Falcons were putting the finishing touches on their 44-21 route of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game, it signaled an end of an “era.”  Yes it brought down the curtain on the Falcons tenure at the Georgia Dome, but can you really call the closing of a venue that opened in 1992 an era?

A few blocks away another so-called era ended at the end of the 2016 baseball season.  Barely 20 years old, Turner Field (f/k/a Atlanta Olympic Stadium) also closed its doors.

Image result for 1996 olympic stadium                                                          Turner Field as it opened for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Sun Trust Park, the Braves new home, will open this April at an estimated cost of $672 million.  It is located in suburban Cobb County.  The Falcons will open next season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.  The price tag for their new diggs, a whopping $1.6 billion!

What has happened to our sports venues?  I applaud the Red Sox for keeping up and modernizing 105 year old Fenway Park.  The same can be said for the Chicago Cubs and soon to be 103 year old Wrigley Field.  In eight years Chicago’s Soldier Field will celebrate its 100th anniversary, and is by far the oldest permanent venue in the NFL.

The recent trend in both baseball and football is to get rid of the old “cookie cutter” design.  The thinking in the 1960s and ’70s was to have baseball and football in the same house.  The result was that the sight lines for both sports were less than ideal.  I understand that the cost of putting on professional games have skyrocketed and competition is fierce, but what happened to venues standing the test of time?

The cookie cutters in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Atlanta all lasted roughly 30 years.  Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis lasted 40 years, New York’s Shea Stadium lasted the longest at 45.

Image result for riverfront stadium

Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati.  One of three cookie cutter stadiums that opened in the early 1970s and closed 30 years later.

When ballparks were being replaced after thirty years, I thought, what a shame! Their predecessors stood for over 50 years and had so much history!  Why would you replace a venue after only thirty years and not renovate it for at least one sport?

This latest chapter really floors me!  The Georgia Dome and Turner Field are the first venues that replaced a cookie cutter stadium to close their doors.  The Georgia Dome was the first new venue that opened for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.  It opened its doors to the Atlanta Falcons in 1992.  The main Olympic Stadium opened for the 1996 Games and became the Atlanta Braves home the following year.  Can someone tell me how facilities that opened in the 1990s have ended their usefulness?  Am I missing something?

How did we get from ballparks lasting 100 years, to them lasting 20?  The Turner Field scenario is just pure greed!  On top of closing a main stage for an Olympics, the city of Atlanta also let the Braves get away!  Honestly, I side with the city on this one.  How does an owner of a franchise have the audacity to come to a civic government after only 20 years and complain they need a new ballpark?  The Falcons are no better!  25 years? really?

Image result for los angeles coliseum

Los Angeles Coliseum, main stadium for both the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics.

Let’s put this into perspective, Turner Field lasted 21 years including its Olympic life.  North America also has three other former Olympic Stadiums that are still in use.  The Los Angeles Coliseum, which is home to USC football, and temporarily, the Los Angeles Rams opened its doors in 1923.  The Olympic Stadium in Mexico City opened in 1952 and is still in use.  Olympic Stadium in Montreal which opened in 1976, although it doesn’t have a primary tenant at the moment, is still open.  How do you justify closing Atlanta’s stadium after only 20 years?

Judging by what has gone on in Atlanta, it makes me wonder if Wrigley and Fenway are the last of a dying breed.  How long will the relatively recently opened venues last?

Image result for oriole park at camden yardsOriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD.  Home of the Baltimore Orioles.

Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened in 1992 (same year as the Georgia Dome) and remains one of the gold standards in baseball.  Dodger Stadium opened before the cookie cutter age and is still going strong.

Does the closing of Turner Field and the Georgia Dome signal a new era of throw away stadiums?

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL A CHANGE IN THE SPORTS SEASON

Now that Sunday’s epic Super Bowl is behind us and the Patriots have partied with their fans, it’s time to turn the page.  Since the National Football League settled on the first Sunday in February to stage it’s championship, it became the perfect lead in to Spring Training.

The transition from football to baseball has become a new tradition on social media.  In the waning moments of the past few Super Bowls, baseball fans post and tweet about how many days it is until pitchers and catchers report.  Major League Baseball, and the teams themselves also take to Facebook and Twitter.

Growing up in Queens Spring Training brought on a different dimension.  Hearing Bob Murphy’s voice on the radio signaled the end of a long cold winter.  Never mind the fact that he was in Florida and it was still wintry in New York.  Murphy’s voice brought about a calm and a warmth that made me think of longer days and nicer weather.  It was a beacon of Spring, a rite of passage that warmer and lighter days were right around the corner.

Image result for Bob MurphyBob Murphy, voice of the New York Mets 1962-2003.

Now that I call South Florida home, February means that baseball begins in my backyard.  Next week pitchers and catchers will convene in Florida and Arizona.  All over both states winter will symbolically end.  The pop of the glove will be heard from Tampa to Port St. Lucie, from Disney World to West Palm Beach.  The desert that houses the greater Phoenix area will also be alive with the sound of baseball!  Soon after, it will be time for the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues to open for business.

A bucket list item for any baseball fan is a trip to either of these two states.  I highly recommend touring the back fields of a team’s training camp.  In a park-like setting you can watch the players go through drills, you can see the pitchers honing their skills in the expanded bullpens.  It’s the best way to meet and greet players.  Most players are available for autographs!  The best thing about this is the price, morning workouts are free and open to the public.

Image result for back fields of roger dean stadium practiceMiami Marlins run an infield drill at Roger Dean Training Complex in Jupiter, FL

The back fields are also the site of “B” games in which younger players, or older invitees play in front of the teams brain trust. These games are almost like an audition for those who may or may not make the opening day roster.  They are played in a very informal setting that is almost Little League like.  In 2004 I experienced a thrill of a lifetime at one of these games.  It was at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida (Spring home of the Marlins and Cardinals), the Marlins were hosting the Mets (who train about an hour up I-95 in Port St. Lucie).  Marlins manager Jack McKeon approached my son and asked him if he would like to be a ball boy!  After my son got settled he was sitting on an upside down sunflower seed pail near the on-deck circle with a few new friends.  Oh and by the way his new buddies were named Jack McKeon, Bill Robinson, and Tony Perez!

As Bob used to say, buckle your seatbelts, and get ready for a ride that starts in Florida and Arizona, goes 162 regular season games and into October!  Will there be another epic season full of surprises like last year?  Only time will tell.

The calendar has turned the page, and the season has changed in the sports world.  The sound of the quarterback calling signals has given way to the pop of the glove and the crack of the bat!  It won’t be long until we hear those wonderful two words “Play Ball!”

2016-THE YEAR IN REVIEW PART II

When I left you last week the Stanley Cup was residing in Pittsburgh and the Larry O’Brien Trophy took up residency in Cleveland.  So much more happened in 2016 so let’s look back at the rest of the year.

As the city of Rio de Janeiro and the nation of Brazil prepared to host the world in August there were many challenges.  The zikka virus was running rampid and the waters that were supposed to host the rowing competition was still polluted.  Crime was a problem and some venues were still under construction.  All in all the city and nation was sucessful in hosting the Olympics.

Long before allegations of the Russian government tinkering with the American presidential election, their athletes were involved in a doping scandal.  The suspicion of PED use followed the Russian Olympic delegation from before the Games and all the way through the competition.

At the Rio Games the United States dominated the medal count.  The Americans led the way with 121 total medals (46 gold, 37 silver, 38 bronze).  The 2016 Games were highlighted by two Olympic icons, one in the pool and one on the 100 meter track.

American swimmer Michael Phelps, who had decided that the London Olympics in 2012 would be his last, had a change of heart in 2014.  What a decision that turned out to be! Phelps won a total of five gold medals and one silver to leave Rio de Janeiro as the most decorated olympic athlete of all time.

There was also a passing of the torch on the American swim team.  Katie Ledecky won five medals of her own at the Rio Games.  Ledecky became the first woman to sweep the Olympic 200, 400, and 800 meter freestyle events.

The second olympic icon that made headlines was Jamaican runner Usain Bolt.  He defended his title of World’s Fastest Human by winning his third straight gold in the 100 meter event.

Finally, the USA mens and women’s basketball teams once again came home with gold medals.  Lebron James and Stephan Curry did not participate in the Olympics.  Curry was recovering from an injury while James decided to rest.   Lead by Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, team USA had some challenges on their way to securing the Olympic title. Anthony announced his retirement from Olympic competition following the Gold Medal Game.  Carmelo retires with three gold medals around his neck.   A WNBA all-star team dominated at times to claim the women’s gold.

Major League Baseball’s pennant races and postseason was one for the ages.  The American League East was a three team affair that came down to the final couple of weeks with the Red Sox winning the division by 4 games.  The two teams trailing the Sox would claim both American League Wild Card spots, with the Orioles and Blue Jays finishing tied.  In the National League West the Dodgers and Giants battled almost to the end of the season with the boys from Hollywood coming out on top.

Broadcasting legend Vin Scully called it a 60 year career this year.  It is this writer’s opinion that the calming, story telling voice of this icon will never be replaced.  Thanks for years of memories Mr. Scully, now it’s time for you to pull up a chair and take in a ball game.

The tale of Loveable Losers would take center stage in the postseason.  The Cleveland Indians came out of nowhere this past summer to dominate the American League Central Division.  The Tribe was never really challenged and won the division by eight games over second place Detroit.  Speaking of domination, what went on in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field this year was simply magical.  The Cubs would win an MLB best 103 games while running away with the National League Central.  The Cubbies won the division by 17 1/2 games over the second place Cardinals.

On a magical Saturday night in October, the Chicago Cubs shutout the Los Angeles Dodgers by the score of 5-0. The win gave the Cubs a 4-2 NLCS win.   It was a night not seen on the Near North Side of Chicago since 1945!  The Cubs were National League Champs!  The fun was just starting in the Windy City.

Meanwhile, on the shores of Lake Erie another long-suffering franchise was making its own magic.  On a late Wednesday afternoon in Toronto the Cleveland Indians also won a league championship with a shutout.  The Indians defeated the Blue Jays 3-0 to win the American League Championship in five games.

The World Series was a seven game thriller for the ages.  The Indians, who had home field advantage thanks to an American League victory in the All-Star Game, returned home from Wrigley Field as the calendar turned to November. Cleveland was one game shy of winning it all.  The Indians, who held the second longest championship drought in the majors (68 years), needed one win at home to claim the World Series championship.  The Tribe fell short.

Following a Cubs victory in Game 6, Chicago would hold a 6-3 lead after six innings in game seven.  Cubs fans had to start wondering if the curses that followed their team were waking up again when Cleveland erupted for three runs in the eighth inning to tie the game.  Following a very short rain delay the Cubs would score two in the top of the tenth inning and give up a run in the bottom of the extra frame.  So after so many twists and turns for the first time since 1908 the Chicago Cubs are the reigning World Series Champions.

So much happened in the year 2016 in the sports world and beyond.  The Cubs, and Cavs became winners after so many years.  The Carolina Panthers, Washington Capitals, and the Golden State Warriors dominated and fell short.  Vin Scully and Dick Enberg hung up their microphones.

In 2016 there was also tragedy.

On June 3, 2016 all of humanity lost an icon when Muhammad Ali passed away.  Ali did so much for his fellow man in a lifetime that went way beyond the boxing ring.  On the morning of September 25th the entire community here in South Florida as well as the sports world woke up to an unthinkable story.  Marlins superstar pitcher Jose Fernandez and two of his friends were involved in a boat crash off Miami Beach during the night.  All three were found dead.  Such talent, such personality gone way too soon.  Between parts one and two of this blog another sad story emerged.  This past Wednesday the sports reporting community lost one of its own.  Craig Sager, who earlier this year gave such an upbeat and inspiring speech at the ESPN Espy Awards show, lost his long battle with cancer.  He almost had it beat and vowed to keep beating it.  To quote Stuart Scott “You beat cancer by how you live.”  Stuart was so right and Craig lived the same way.

To wrap up the year, I give you my first annual awards:

Athlete of the Year: Michael Phelps for walking away as the most decorated athlete in Olympic history.

Lifetime achievement Award:  Vin Scully

Story of the Year:  Chicago Cubs win the World Series.

This is my final blog of 2016.  I will begin 2017 by publishing here on wordpress on January 8th.  Here’s to a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza,  and a Happy and Healthy New Year to all my readers.  If you are enjoying my weekly blogs, please spread the word.  I appreciate each and every one of my readers.

 

 

 

 

2016-THE YEAR IN REVIEW

As we continue to wind down the sports year of 2016 it is time to take a look back.  It was a year that saw Cleveland of all places take center stage twice.  We saw the city of Denver throw a retirement party for a football icon.  We witnessed a team owned by an iconic figure, led by a future Hall of Famer buzz-saw its way to hoisting the Stanley Cup.  We also witnessed baseball history that was over a century in the making.

Eleven days into the year Alabama defeated Clemson to win a national championship game for the ages.  It was a thrilling  45-40 offensive show in which the schools traded touchdowns in the final 1:07 of the game.  The University of Alabama has now won 16 National Championships.  2016 was the fourth under head coach Nick Saban.

The Carolina Panthers were the story throughout most of the 2015-16 NFL season.  Their 15-1 record made them the favorite to win Super Bowl 50.  The Denver Broncos endured six weeks without future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning who was sidelined with a foot injury.  The Broncos finished the regular season with a 12-4 mark, good for first place in the AFC Western Division by one game over the 11-5 Kansas City Chiefs.  Manning would return from his injury in time for the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs.

Peyton Manning’s return and the Broncos relentless defense would develop into the story of the 2016 NFL Postseason.  Following a bye during the Wild Card Round the Broncos would knock off the Steelers (23-16) and win a nail biter for the ages in the AFC Championship Game.  Denver defeated the New England Patriots 20-18 to advance to the 50th Anniversary Super Bowl.  The Broncos defense would sack Patriots quarterback Tom Brady 4 times, knock him down 20 times and intercept him twice.

The 15-1 Panthers would win the NFC Championship by defeating the Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional Round (31-24), and dominating the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 in the NFC Championship Game.

The Broncos defense lead by Super Bowl MVP Von Miller would be the story of the Super Bowl.  League MVP Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was sacked seven times.  The Denver defense would also force three turnovers.  Peyton Manning would finish his storied career on top.  Despite his injury ridden final season Manning would walk away wearing his second championship ring.

The Carolina Panthers weren’t the only Panthers team making headlines in January.  The NHL Florida Panthers began 2016 riding a winning streak that began on December 15, 2015 with a 5-1 victory over the New York Islanders at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.  They entered 2016 winning ten straight.  Victories in Ottawa on January 7, and in Edmonton on January 10th capped off the longest win streak in the NHL in 2015-16, and 2016-17 to date. Florida would finish the season with a team record 103 points on their way to an Atlantic Division Championship.  More importantly the long floundering franchise from South Florida has become relevant again.

Just days before the Florida Panthers became the talk of the NHL, an event happened in Pittsburgh that would have an impact on the rest of the season.

On December 12 the Penguins were out of the Metropolitan Division (and Eastern Conference Wild Card ) picture with a record of 15-10-3.  Owner Mario Lemieux felt their was a need for a leadership change.  Head coach Mike Johnston was let go and replaced by Mike Sullivan.  Sullivan was head coach of the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre.  Under Sullivan’s leadership Pittsburgh would go 33-16-5 the rest of the way.  They finished 2nd in the Metropolitan Division behind the President’s Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals.  The Pens would enter the postseason with the second best record in the Eastern Conference.

Pittsburgh was dominant during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Victories over the New York Rangers (5 games), Washington (6 games) and Tampa Bay Lightning (7 games)  would send  them to the Stanley Cup Finals where they would defeat the San Jose Sharks in a 6 game series to win Lord Stanley’s Cup.  It was Sidney Crosby’s second championship, he also skated away with the Conn Smythe Trophy.

The San Francisco Bay area was buzzing with playoff excitement this past spring.  While the San Jose Sharks were battling the aforementioned Penguins, there was an even bigger story grabbing local and national headlines.  The Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA regular season with a record-breaking 73 wins.  Golden State would follow the regular season with dominant 5 game victories over the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers.

The Western Conference Championship Series turned out to be one for the ages.  The Warriors would hold on to win in seven games over the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Thunder was led by Kevin Durant, who would by the way, sign with Golden State as an unrestricted during the summer.

Like the Carolina Panthers and the Washington Capitals, the Golden State Warriors dominance would be challenged.  Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were leading a dominant charge of their own in the Eastern Conference.  Four game sweeps of the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks, followed by a six game victory over the Toronto Raptors sent the Cavs to the NBA Finals to take on Golden State.

A seven game epic would end with the Cavaliers winning their first ever NBA Championship.  While Sidney Crosby was hoisting the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup, Lebron James was hoisting the Finals MVP Trophy and the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

There is so much to cover in what has been an eventful year, too much for one blog.  This is the first of a two parter.  Next week we cover the Olympics, baseball and who was the best of the best.  Stay tuned and see you next week to wrap up a loaded sports year.