Category Archives: CNN

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.

 

 

 

 

AMERICA’S DARKEST DAY AND HOW THE SPORTS WORLD HELPED HEAL A NATION

It has been fifteen years and it doesn’t get any easier.

This morning, as I have every year following the attacks on our nation on September 11, 2001 I paused and prayed at 8:46 and once again at 9:03.  I also watched as MSNBC reran that morning’s Today Show that also turned into news coverage of the heart wrenching events that unfolded.  Seeing not only my country, but my hometown being attacked brought it all back as if it was yesterday.

Our lives changed so much on that cloudless morning in the northeast.  So many families that lost loved ones who simply went to work and boarded airplanes.  Ordinary things that met with anything but ordinary.  On a personal level that morning was as scary and stressful as it can ever get.  I am the middle of three brothers, and the only one who relocated when I left the New York area for South Florida.

Both of my brothers spend time in Manhattan as part of their daily routines.  I spent that morning frantically trying to find out about their whereabouts and safety.  I knew my parents were safe in their home in New Jersey.  I thank God that all I got that morning was a scare.  Many people weren’t so lucky.  I can never forget the anguished looks on the faces of those walking around the neighborhood that was beginning to be called Ground Zero.  The fear of the worst, the finality that came.  Sad beyond words.

I know that everyone who was old enough to understand what happened in New York, Washington, and Shanksville has a story to tell. But how does this all connect to a sports blog?

Let’s set the clock back to Sunday September 16, 2001.  Baseball was still on hold, the NFL had postponed week 2 till the end of the season.  Too soon for fun and games to continue, but one of American sports’ famous cathedrals was actually was used as one.  The city of New York picked Yankee Stadium as the venue to begin healing.  A massive memorial service was held at the House That Ruth Built.  Six weeks later President Bush would bring the nation to its feet when he threw out the first ball at game 3 of the 2001 World Series from the pitcher’s mound of the Bronx landmark.

Across the East River in Queens, Shea Stadium would be the center of healing.  On September 21, 2001 Major League Baseball was back in business in New York.  The Braves would face the Mets (clad in NYPD and FDNY baseball caps) as New York attempted to return to some semblance of normalcy and fun.  If Bobby Thompson’s epic walk off home run at the Polo Grounds in 1951 was the “shot heard round the world” then Mike Piazza’s walk off on that September night was the “shot heard round America”.  The crowd at Shea exploded to a fever pitch not seen since Jesse Orosco finished off the Red Sox in 1986.

On September 20th the Rangers, one night removed from opening their preseason at Madison Square Garden headed to Philadelphia to face one of their fiercest rivals.  What happened that night still gives me goosebumps.  You see, President Bush addressed Congress that night with a status report on the events of September 11th.  The Flyers decided to post the speech on the scoreboard at what is now known as the Wells Fargo Center.  The Rangers and Flyers stopped the game.  The NHL officiating crew stopped officiating.  No brawling, no rivalry, everyone stopped and listened to the president.  The game never resumed.

Anyone who knows the makeup of South Florida knows the distinct connection to the New York area.  Like most of the country, time stood still on that awful day as residents had one eye on their loved ones up north.  The typical South Floridian question among transplanted New Yorkers was “everyone OK?, Have you heard from everyone?”

On September 23rd the NFL resumed their schedule with what was supposed to be week 3. South Florida went into a collective cheer when Jay Fiedler crossed the goal line to finish a Miami Dolphins comeback victory over the Oakland Raiders.  The eruption at the stadium now known as Hard Rock Stadium was deafening.  Our community reacted with such a release with that win you would have thought the Dolphins just won the Super Bowl.

So as the NFL opens up in earnest this afternoon, the fifteenth anniversary of the worst attack on American soil still overshadows fun and games.  Amid the pregame and halftime ceremonies that will go on around the league today, hearts will still be heavy.  Despite it all games will go on in the NFL and Major League Baseball.  Sports will once again be there for America.  The sporting world will again be part of the healing process.

God Bless America!