Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The At Bat Never Heard 'Round the World

Don't tell Chicago Cubs fans this, but every World Series really is special to its fans. Yes, 2010 will go down in Giants fans' memory banks as the one that wiped away all the demons of missed opportunities from the past, just as 2004 erased a legendary "curse" from the minds and hearts of Red Sox fans. But, ask a Red Sox fan if that meant they weren't rooting just as hard for their boys in 2007. Trust me, they were. 2012 didn't wipe away 56 years of futility for the Giants, as 2010 did. But we rooted just as hard, and the feeling at the end was just as magical. And in the end, I will wind up spending just as much money on 2012 World Series Merchandise as I did in 2010. The 2002 Giants probably had the best collection of talent of any Giants team in my lifetime. But ultimately, that team fell 5 outs short. The 2010 "torture" team will always be the one I thought I was destined never to see - the first World Series Championship in my lifetime. The 2012 team will be known for its magical run - losing the first two games at home to Cincinnati in the Division Series, only to win all three games on the road in Cincinnati to advance to the NLCS. Then this version of the cardiac kids fell behind 3 games to 1 to the defending World Series Champion Cardinals, only to roar back and win 3 straight again to advance to the World Series. Along the way, all these Giants did was win 3 in a row in Cincinnati - which hadn't been done by a Reds opponent at all in 2012. They managed to not hold a lead at all in the series, until Scott Rolen booted a ball in the 10th inning of game 3. And then the Giants would never trail again in the series. Then the Giants promptly went out and got dismantled by the Cardinals, en route to a 3-1 series deficit. And then decided to pull the same Houdini act, by outscoring the most prolific offense in the National League 20-1 over the next three games and advance to the World Series. Once the Giants advanced to the World Series, they were given basically no chance to win. 22 of 27 ESPN "experts" picked the Tigers to win it all. None of the 22 even said the series would go 7 games. Phrases like "Fielder and Cabrera will be too much" and "Verlander will dominate" ruled the headlines. And so, naturally, the Giants went out and swept the Tigers by a combined score of 16-6. Whoops, that wasn't in the script. All those things you could have read in any article about the 2012 postseason. Some people were even generous enough to break down the World Series and give keys to why the Giants won it all. Pablo Sandoval's 3-HR game in game 1 being a huge catalyst for this team. This team's incredible defense throughout the World Series. The Blanco-Scutaro-Posey relay in game 2. One analyst was even astute enough to talk up the importance of the bottom of the eighth inning in game 4, with a runner on first base and Cabrera-Fielder-Young due up for the Tigers. And to that point, the only thing Cabrera and Young had done was combine for 2 HRs and all 3 RBIs that night - and Jeremy Affeldt promptly whiffed all 3 in succession. But nobody, not one living soul, pointed to a huge at bat in game 2, that affected game 4, and won the Giants the World Series in 4 games, rather than letting the Tigers even catch a scent of momentum. In the top of the ninth in game 2, with the Giants leading 2-0, Omar Infante strolled to the plate. For most people, this at bat won't even register as a footnote in this World Series. Miguel Cabrera waited as the tying run in the on deck circle. I remember thinking to myself, "just get Infante out. I do not want to deal with Miggy as the tying run." And Sergio Romo easily granted my wish, and induced Infante into a weak foul pop-up, which Brandon Belt snagged. Game over. Giants up 2 games to 0. Cabrera left in the on-deck circle. But how does that affect game 4, you ask? In the bottom of the 10th inning of game 4, Miguel Cabrera did get to mosey on up to home plate with 2 outs, as the tying run. And after 6 straight sliders (Romo's bread and butter pitch) and a 2-2 count on the best hitter in baseball, Romo threw an 89-mph fastball right down the middle. And the bat never left Cabrera's shoulders. Strike three. Game over. World Series over. The Giants are champs. And the only reason that was made possible was because Cabrera had never faced Romo before. He hadn't seen him in live action. Therefore, all Cabrera had was "the book on Romo." And the book told him slider, slider, slider. So when he saw a pitch starting out over the heart of the plate, naturally, Cabrera would assume it would break down and away for ball 3. "Lay off it", he probably told himself. Only, it wasn't a slider. It never broke. It was a fastball. A fastball he'd never seen from Romo. Because he'd never faced Romo. Because Romo got Omar Infante to pop out to end game 2 on a slider, with Cabrera in the on deck circle. See, I was worried about Cabrera coming up as the tying run in game 2. The fact that he didn't meant that when he came up as the tying run in game 4, would result in...... THE GIANTS WIN THE SERIES! THE GIANTS WIN THE SERIES! THE GIANTS WIN THE SERIES!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Excerpt 2- The Last 27 Outs

By the late spring of 1982, my family had moved to Boca Raton, Florida. By now, I was a fully entrenched Bay Area sports fanatic. Florida did not boast a Major League Baseball franchise at that time. The majority of South Floridians, being transplants, came all set with their own favorite sports teams in tow. Florida was a booming marketplace in the 1980s. Families wanted to raise their children in a nice, warm climate, with good school systems, and brand new stucco homes. It wasn't enough to live in the suburbs anymore. You had to live in "subdivisions" within the suburbs. When my family moved to Boca Raton, we didn't just live in Boca Raton. In fact, we technically lived outside of the "Boca Raton City Limits". To this day, I have no idea what that means. What I do know, is that we lived in a development called "Loggers' Run". And within Loggers' Run, we lived in a subdivision called "Indian Head". This was how living in South Florida was in the 1980s. And the allure of these new developments popping up along the coast in Florida, drew many young families there. Most of them came from New Jersey or New York, and brought with them their love of the Yankees or Mets. Those who came from the New England area loved their Red Sox. And those who may have ventured from the Midwest lived and died with their Cubs. There may have been a rare occasion that a native Floridian actually did exist. And, since the Atlanta Braves were the closest geographical team, and their Spring Training site at that time was just a few miles north, in West Palm Beach, there were a few Braves fans as well. It wasn't so bad being the only Giants fan in town. What did get under my skin though, was always having to explain myself. Even as a young child. I remember going to the grocery store with my mother one day when I was 7, wearing a Giants t-shirt, just before the start of the football season. That led to a pretty heated exchange between the checkout clerk and I.
"Alright. A Giants fan!" the teenage clerk exclaimed. "You think we're gonna be pretty good this year?"
"We're ok. But the Braves and Dodgers are better than us this year," I sounded rather dejected as I answered.
Clearly this confused the clerk, as he looked at me like I was a trigonometry question he hadn't prepared for. "The Braves and Dodgers?" he asked, rather curtly. "What do they have to do with how the Giants will play this season? All we have to worry about is if the NFL is going to play or be on strike this season."
"I think my son was talking about......" my mother tried to interject before I put the clerk in his place. She didn't succeed.
"Oh, those Giants?" I turned up an eyebrow at him. "I hate those Giants. The 49'ers kicked their butt last year. I was talking about the baseball Giants......duh." I huffed loudly, as the elderly woman behind us at the checkout line wasn't sure whether to be shocked at my behavior or chuckle at my boldness.
"What Giants baseball team?" the clerk again looked as confused as he most certainly did on every high school math test he ever took.
"Mom, can we just go? This guy doesn't know anything !" My mother paid the clerk, apologized for my "rude" behavior and scurried me out of the local Publix as fast as I'd ever seen her move. I heard some laughter in the background as we left. I was proud of myself. My mother......not so much.
This was common for me though. Everyone in Florida equates the "Giants" with football, as they are New York's team, and as such, they have a very large following in Florida. Baseball's version of the Giants plays in San Francisco. They are not very well known in Florida. The clerk not even knowing that they were a baseball team would not be the last person that wouldn't know there was a professional baseball team named the Giants. But even after I explained who the Giants were and that they did in fact play baseball - and quite well by comparison, I still had to explain why I was a fan of them.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

First Excerpt from 'The Last 27 Outs'

For thirty-five years, the list echoed in my head over and over. Reds, Reds, Yankees, Yankees, Pirates, Phillies, Dodgers, Cardinals, Orioles, Tigers, Royals, Mets, Twins, Dodgers, A’s, Reds, Twins, Blue Jays, Blue Jays, Braves, Yankees, Marlins, Yankees, Yankees, Yankees, Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins, Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Yankees. The list was stuck in my head like a bad song that resonates at the worst possible times. That was the list of teams that had gotten the last 27 outs of the baseball season each year in my lifetime. The San Francisco Giants were nowhere to be found on that list.
I had witnessed dynasties. I had witnessed epic World Series comebacks. I had witnessed teams end the longest of World Championship droughts. And I had witnessed teams that were still in their infancy win it all. The one thing I had not witnessed was my beloved San Francisco Giants record the last out on the last day of the Major League Baseball season.
After the Giants knocked off the Phillies in the 2010 National League Championship Series, I sent a text message to my brother (a life-long Yankees fan) expressing my excitement and anticipation. “I just want 4 more wins so I can finally buy that elusive ‘San Francisco Giants - World Champions’ shirt.” Almost as if to rub in the success that he has gotten to bear witness to in his 33 years, he replied smugly, “I can loan you one. I have 27 to pick from.”
It wasn’t as though I had never witnessed one of my beloved teams hoisting a championship trophy in my lifetime. The 49’ers had reeled in 5 Super Bowl Championships, and one of the longest running and most successful dynasties of the Super Bowl Era. The Pittsburgh Penguins had won back to back Stanley Cups in 1991-1992, and then added another in 2009. And technically, the Golden State Warriors won an NBA Championship in my lifetime – though I was about 5 months old, and a little too young to appreciate it. But the team that I was the closest to in my heart, the team that I wanted to see win it more than anything, the team that would send me to tears on so many occasions, both as a child and as an adult, had never been able to reach the pinnacle. They had opportunities. This wasn’t a downtrodden franchise. Sure, they had a bad run of things there in the early to mid – 1980s. But this was a proud and storied franchise. This was a franchise that boasts the most career victories of any professional team in any professional sport. More than those vaunted Yankees. And their career winning percentage as a team – second all time, to those damn Yankees. And it wasn’t as though they’d never won a World Series, either. They’d won 5 of them. Of course, they all came when they were the New York Giants, and hadn’t won one since 1954. In my lifetime, the Giants had made the post-season six times (1987, 1989, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003). They made it to a one-game play-in for a Wild Card spot in 1998. But they lost to the Cubs. And they were tied on the final day of the regular season in 1993 with the Atlanta Braves. The Braves beat the Rockies on the final day of the season. The Giants lost to the Dodgers. The Giants won 103 games in 1993. Following the strike of 1994, Major League Baseball installed the Wild Card into the playoffs. The Giants would have been the Wild Card team in the National League in 1993. In 1997, the Giants won their first division title in eight years. Major League baseball’s rules were such that they had to go on the road for the first two games of the playoffs to play at the Florida Marlins. The Marlins were the Wild Card team. The Marlins won both games in the bottom of the ninth inning – utilizing the home field advantage Major League Baseball had given them. The Marlins won game 3 in San Francisco and the Giants were eliminated. Before the 1998 season began, Major League Baseball determined that this was an unfair advantage being given to the Wild Card teams, and amended the rules so that the Wild Card team would now have to play the first two games of the playoffs on the road. But the damage was already done.
I had seen enough near-misses, bad timing, random freak events and heartache to make me wonder if the stars would ever align for me to witness a Giants championship in my lifetime.

“Beth, you and Mark need to get David over here right away. The most fascinating thing is happening at my house right now,” my grandmother – a very demure woman for most of the 36 years I have known her – exclaimed, in almost a demanding tone.
“Ma, he’s got some friends over and they are playing in the backyard. What is so important that he needs to be interrupted?” my mother asked, shrugging off the demands of her own mother, never even putting down the knife she was using to chop up the carrots for that night’s beef stew. The phone perched between her shoulder and left ear, head cocked to the side so the beige cord could reach from the phone that was attached to the wretched flower wallpapered wall in the kitchen, all the way over to the cutting board, next to the sink. She peaked out the kitchen window long enough to see that my friends and I were playing a game of tag in the backyard of 4-11 Summit Ave. My friends and I were enjoying a cloud-free summer day, and my mother wasn’t in the mood to start an argument with her 4-year old son on the whim of her mother. That is, until she heard….
“Willie Mays and his agent are here for my open house.”
As those words echoed in my mother’s head, suddenly telling me that my friends had to go home so that we could go to grandma’s house seemed worth the fight. My father grabbed my one-year old brother while my mother shooed the children out of our backyard. Within 10 minutes of hearing “Willie Mays and his agent are here”, my parents had ushered several young children off our property, grabbed the diaper bag for little Jason, and loaded my brother and I into their green and brown wood-paneled station wagon for the 12 ½ to 15 minute ride (depending on traffic) over to where the ‘rich people lived’ – the side of town that my grandparents resided in.
Willie Mays was a hero to so many during his playing days. He spent almost his entire career with the Giants – both in New York and San Francisco. He was traded back to New York, to play for the Mets, in 1972. After he retired in 1973, he remained with the Mets organization, as their hitting instructor, until after the 1979 season. Willie had been in the market for a rather large home in the Northern New Jersey area, and as fate would have it, my grandparents were looking to sell their rather large Northern New Jersey Estate, and retire to Delray Beach, Florida. (Willie would not wind up buying my grandparents’ house.)
My grandfather was an entrepreneur of sorts, eventually buying a food services company, Alan Foods, and growing that business so successfully, that he was able to build he and my grandmother one of the larger homes in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Not only was the 4,500 – square foot house more than spacious enough for the two of them after their three children moved out, got married and had children of their own, but the pool that they had built in their backyard next to their lighted tennis court was the size of most community swimming pools. And that is exactly what it became. Over the years, my grandparents had a circle of very close friends. Seven couples, all around the same age made up what my grandmother affectionately coined “The Mishpucha”. And as The Mishpucha was comprised of people all roughly the same age, so were their children and grandchildren. And as the families grew, the Aronowitz Pool quickly became the weekend hang out spot for everyone. But, as my grandparents were entering the twilight of their lives, and my grandmother’s particular disdain for cold weather increased, they felt it was time for a change. They had found a beautiful three-bedroom condo right on a golf course in Palm Greens, a retirement community in Delray Beach, Florida. With their large estate with all of its amenities on the market, Mays thought that this would be an ideal living situation, with an easy commute to Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York.
As we pulled into my grandparents’ long, circular, cement-paved driveway, my father’s face lit up when he saw Willie and what appeared to be his agent standing outside on the cobblestone walkway leading up to the front door, talking to my grandfather. My father was a life-long Yankees fan, and always argued that had it not been for injuries and alcohol abuse, that Mickey Mantle was the better player. That didn’t seem to matter on this day, though. Willie Mays was still Willie Mays, after all. My mother would re-tell the story years later to friends at some random holiday party that my father had one foot out the car door before he even put it in park. I’ve always assumed this was a slight embellishment, as he did have his 4-year old and 1-year old sons in the backseat. Nevertheless, he did have a speed walker’s pace as he made his way from the car, up the cobblestone walkway, with his hand out to shake Willie’s, even as he was still about 10 yards away. Meanwhile, my poor mother was left to tend to her boys, struggling to grab the diaper bag, Jason and hold my hand, so I didn’t go running up to this unsuspecting celebrity of a man. I was known to walk up to anyone – friends, family, friends of family, random strangers, and just start spouting out random things. A couple years later, I would be visiting my grandfather in the hospital, and a very nice nurse started asking me questions about him. Among them, she asked me what my grandfather did for a living. I was trying to tell her that he didn’t work because he was retired, but instead, I said, “he doesn’t work anymore because he’s retarted.” While this sent the entire hospital room into hilarious laughter, my mother did not want me to scare off Willie with one of my 4-year old rants.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

NHL needs a Moniker....and some American Fans

David Stern has such a strangle hold over what goes on in the NBA, that some have joked that the NBA stands for the No Balls Association. The NFL has curtailed all celebrations, leading to it being known as the No Fun League. Now that the NCAA has banned any self-expression whatsoever, one clever sportswriter nicknamed it the No Creative Athletes Allowed. While MLB's moniker has nothing to do with its initials, Bud Selig's autobiography would be titled "No balls, One strike."

Meanwhile, the NHL really has no moniker....or fans south of Leamington, Ontario. And that really is a shame. The NHL playoffs began 8 days ago. And barely anyone noticed. And that is a travesty. I am a baseball guy. I am a self-proclaimed baseball geek. I grew up loving and playing baseball. When I was old enough, I literally tattooed baseball on my body. That said, there is no greater playoff system than the NHL's. It is two months of grueling, hard hitting, intense, edge-of-your-seat, non-stop action fun. Overtime playoff hockey is the single most intense and white knuckle action in all of sports. Sure, the NFL used to be "sudden death" too. But when you have to bring on your 5'6", 125 lb kicker to ice the game, is it really sudden death? The NHL playoffs in overtime - well, there truly is nothing like it in all of sports.

Last Sunday Night, while most of the eastern seaboard slept, the Colorado Avalanche and the San Jose Sharks were locked up in an absolute classic. After 60 minutes of regulation, neither team had scored a goal. But it wasn't a boring 0-0 game. Some good fights, and San Jose had peppered Colorado goaltender, Craig Anderson with 50 shots. Colorado, by contrast, had only mustered 15 shots on goal against Sharks netminder, Evgeni Nabakov. Less than a minute into overtime, the Sharks were simply trying to clear the puck behind their own goal to set up a rush up ice. San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle hit the puck seemingly to go behind the net to his fellow defenseman and they would begin to set up their offensive play. Unfortunately, he hit the puck off the heel of his stick, and the puck, rather than sliding behind the net, slid right through the goal mouth and past an unsuspecting Nabakov. Goal Colorado. Game over. Just like that. Faster than a Mike Tyson fight. And not one Colorado player was even in the picture when it happened. The camera crew had to pan down ice just to see the shocked players celebrating. And then pan back to the San Jose goal to see the crushed Sharks. And that is playoff hockey in overtime.

Some overtimes last forever....and ever....and ever. In 2000, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the first two games of their series with the heavily favored Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The series shifted back to Pittsburgh for game 3. The game kept going and going and going. Even the energizer bunny fell asleep. In the 5th overtime (that would be the 8th period - more than 140 game minutes later) the Flyers scored the winning goal. And used that momentum to not lose another game in the series against Pittsburgh.

In the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, the Red Wings and Penguins played a classic 3-overtime game. Before the third overtime began, NBC analyst Pierre Maguire interviewed then-Penguins forward Petr Sykora. Sykora informed him that the Penguins ran out of food in their locker room and had ordered a Pizza. Maguire joked, "from Little Caesar's?" (Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch also owns Little Caesar's Pizza). "No", Sykora said, "we made sure to order from Domino's." Sykora also told Maguire that this was just the energy he needed and he would be scoring the game winning goal in the third overtime. Less than 5 minutes into the third overtime, the Penguins won. On a goal by Sykora.

That's playoff hockey. And this year's playoffs have been spectacular thus far. Not that anyone has noticed. ALL eight first round series' were tied 1-1 after they each had played 2 games. And, the first 8 games of this year's playoffs were ALL decided by one goal (with three of the games going to overtime). That, my friends, is an edge of your seat thrill ride.

The playoffs resume tonight, with defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh looking to advance to the second round. These playoffs have been tremendous thus far. I highly encourage everyone to watch and be captivated by them. Well, the 40% of America that gets the versus channel, anyway.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Braves Caught in Unfair Schedule

Before we get to today's blog, a few notes about the competitive imbalance whining that people love to moan about in baseball and some observations from baseball's first few days. Three games into the 2010 season and 29 of the 30 teams already have at least one loss. Which means, for those of you scoring at home, 29 of the 30 teams also have at least one victory. And the lone remaining undefeated team is not the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox or Philadelphia Phillies or any of the usual suspects. And the lone remaining winless team is not the Washington Nationals or New York Mets or Kansas City Royals. It is a team that should be a pretty good team this year, that has a payroll north of $80 million.

Other early notes-

The Red Sox better find some consistent offense and soon, otherwise, not only will the Rays blow by them, but the Sox will find themselves in a battle for 3rd place with Baltimore.

The White Sox have really good pitching.......and no offense. Maybe it's just a Sox thing.

Jon Rauch seems to be sliding into that closer's role in Minnesota without a hitch - 2 for 2 in saves, on the road, in Anaheim. Joe who?

The Phillies are good. Really, really good. But.....

I still think the Cardinals are better.

The Dodgers look very disjointed out of the gate. Most people knew they would struggle stopping other teams from scoring, but if they can't get consistent offense, it could be a very long season in Southern California.

Personally, I am over the moon that the last remaining unbeaten team is San Francisco. And the fact that they did it not only with outstanding pitching....but that they also found what appears to be a pulse on offense. I don't know if it will last (Renteria is allegedly 34 years old, Molina looks like he weighs 300 lbs and I still don't trust Aubrey Huff), but if they keep scoring 4 or more runs a game, they are going to be very tough to beat.

The Atlanta Braves finished their game with the Chicago Cubs a little after 10pm last night. If they showered, dressed and hustled to the airport for their charter flight, after passing TSA inspection, maybe, and I mean maybe, they took off by 11:30 pm. The flight from Atlanta to San Francisco is approximately 5 1/2 hours. That's 5am eastern time / 2am pacific time. By the time they get their bags and get to the hotel, it would have been after 6am eastern time / 3am pacific time. They play the Giants today, in the Giants home opener at 4:35 eastern time / 1:35 pacific time. This means the Braves would have to be at the field by 10:30 am pacific time. Even as the world's biggest Giants fan, I see a major problem with this. The Giants got to rest comfortably yesterday, after finishing their series in Houston on Wednesday, and having yesterday off to rest.

I am not 100% sure, nor am I going to sift through the MLB Constitution, but I am pretty sure there is a rule against exactly what the Braves are being asked to do. It is my understanding that barring playing a make up game of some sort, a team can not play a night game in one city and then turn around and play a day game in another city. Let alone 3,000 miles away. It is my belief that if the Giants were adamant that they wanted their home opener to be a day game, that MLB should have had the Braves and Cubs play a day game in Atlanta yesterday so that the Braves could have gotten on an early flight to San Francisco. Otherwise, they should have scheduled the Giants home opener as a night game to give the Braves players a chance to rest today. In either case, the Braves are being asked to do something that is unfair and I'm pretty sure against MLB regulations. I am assuming the Braves and/or the MLBPA would have to have approved something like this. And if so, kudos to the Braves for agreeing to this. But it's still not really fair to the players.

Oh, and as long as we are discussing this weekend's Braves-Giants series, be sure to tune in Sunday for what promises to be a really fun showdown. The Giants will send their ace, Tim Lincecum to the hill (he of back to back Cy Young awards, all 5'9", 150 lbs soaking wet of him) to face the Braves' newest phenom hitter, Jason Heyward (the man who went deep on his first MLB at bat, and 6'7" 270 lbs). That will be a fun battle to watch.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

NBA & NCAA make dollars....but no sense.

Ohio St guard Evan Turner and Kentucky guard John Wall both announced they will be forgoing the remainder of their college careers to enter this summer's NBA Draft. Both Turner and Wall project to be top-5 picks - possibly even going 1-2 in the draft. There is no doubt that both of these players have massive NBA potential, and should make their new teams better. All this, and yet I see no problem with Turner going pro....and a huge problem with Wall's ability to go pro. I have nothing against John Wall. I've never met him. He seems like a good enough kid, and he should make a very good NBA player. As a matter of fact, he should be fighting for NBA Rookie of the Year right now.

After the 2004 NBA Draft, the NBA decided to force high school basketball players to attend college for at least 1 year before being allowed to turn pro. The logic that David Stern used was that the 18-year old kids were not ready for the rigors of the NBA lifestyle and it gave them another year to mature. So, in one year - of not attending classes (because exactly what incentive do they have to attend classes if they are going to be bolting after one year?), not really being a college student, other than wearing the school name on their jersey twice a week, they are supposed to magically be more mature a year later? Really?

Let's say I graduate high school and I know that the profession I will be going into doesn't require college. Sure, going to college and getting a degree would hone my skills, but it is not required.....am I now forced to at least "experience the college lifestyle" for a year before going into that profession? Um, no. College is not for everyone. Athletes are in a unique position to get to use their skills to get a college degree. If they so choose. By telling them they have to attend college for one year, they are experiencing nothing. They are not true student-athletes. They are merely athletes who may or may not be getting paid by the university in order to get the University more money - from boosters, TV deals and going far in the NCAA tournament so that the coach can then go out and recruit the next batch of 17 & 18-year olds who plan on spending exactly one year at the University. How exactly does this help that child grow up?

MLB has a rule.....you enter the draft directly out of high school or you attend college for at least three years before you can re-enter the draft. The NFL's rule is simple - you can not enter the NFL draft until you are three years removed from high school. I like Major League Baseball's rule better, but I am good with both. MLB has their rule, mainly because 99% of players spend a couple seasons in the minors seasoning anyway. But I am good with both leagues' rules because it forces the student to commit to at least three years of college study before he can turn pro. So at least in theory, they have to somewhat care about classwork, or risk being suspended during their season.

Additionally, these universities are committing scholarships to students who plan on spending no more than one year at their institution. Meanwhile, the marginal player who will commit to spending all 4 years in school, and maybe even attend a class or two, now must live on a partial scholarship or no scholarship at all. Essentially, we have turned the NCAA into the hired gun league. 4, count them, 4 freshmen from this year's Kentucky basketball team are turning pro. Honestly, what was the point? Kentucky had a great team. Unfortunately, they could not have played in the NBA though, because they wouldn't have fit under the salary cap (ok, obviously, the last part is said tongue-in-cheek, but you get the point).

Ask Kobe or Dwight Howard or LeBron if they've had trouble adjusting to the NBA lifestyle. In 2004, Howard was selected first overall instead of UConn Center Emeka Okefor. At the time, the pick was widely criticized- because Okefor had college seasoning, while Howard was coming straight out of high school. Any questions now?

The NCAA did not like seeing George Mason get to the Final Four. They did not like seeing their product "watered down" because their best talent was jumping right to the NBA. So, they needed to create a way to have the best players show up for at least a year. And from that standpoint, it worked - Derek Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Xavier Henry and the like, have all shown up for one year, made their teams better, and excited college crowds. To the benefit of............the NCAA. Derek Rose allegedly didn't even take his own SATs. He allegedly paid another student to take them for him so that he could get into Memphis and play basketball for one year. So really, what's the point? Rose should have had the ability to say, you know what, my one discernible skill in this world is that I can see things on a basketball court that less than 1% of 1% of the rest of the population can see. I can run the point better than 99.99999% of people can. And therefore, I don't need to take an SAT in order to earn millions. But David Stern and the NCAA said he did. And the sad thing is, he probably never even took those SATs.

David Stern is one of the biggest scam artists in all of sports. His drafts are rigged, as are his playoffs. He is the architect of two very juicy conspiracy theories - that he forced Michael Jordan into retirement for two years as a way of suspending him for his gambling problem without actually suspending him; and sending one of his top officials - Gary Bettman - to go run the NHL into the ground, right as the NHL was about to pass the NBA in American popularity. He runs these scams and we let him get away with it. And now he is forcing 18 year old kids to go to college for one year, and probably receiving a healthy kick back from the NCAA for his cooperation.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I want my Opening Day back

Imagine the following scenario....
It's the first Monday in April. You call in sick to work. You go grab your son/daughter after letting them take a half day from school. You arrive at the ballpark about an hour and a half before the game to watch a little batting practice. Your child gets some autographs from the players and chows down on his/her hot dog. The sun beats down on both of your faces as you sit and admire for the next 3 hours. On your way out of the stadium, you buy both of you team hats. You walk out to your car and drive home. Both of you smiling, laughing and reminiscing about what you just witnessed. After you get home, you pop on the TV to watch some of the late afternoon games. After a little dinner, you go outside and have a catch. After that, you come back in for the night games. You let your child stay up just a little later than usual, to watch some of the night games with you. After all, it's opening day. A brief interlude - to flip over and see how the NCAA Championship game is going - then back to baseball. Finally, after a day of baseball, shared with your child, you crash. Your team is 1-0 (or 0-1). As a matter of fact, 15 teams are 1-0, and the other 15 are 0-1. When the day started, all 30 teams were 0-0. And now, every team has 161 games left.

THAT would be a perfect day. And it could happen. I know this, because it used to happen. Just like that. Baseball had an Opening Day that everyone looked forward to. It wasn't a game that day....it was an event. It was an all day spectacle. The tradition was so rich that it could not be matched by any other sport. The first pitch of the season was always thrown out in Cincinnati. That's where the season began. Period. After the Reds game got underway, then and only then, could every other game get going. It's different in the other three major teams sports, because no other sport has ever been able to match the traditions of baseball - particularly on Opening Day. Football has had Monday Night Football for over 40 years now, so even on Opening Sunday, fans already know that 2 teams won't be a part of it (and now there are two Monday Night games on Opening weekend, so now 4 teams don't play on Opening Sunday). And the fanfare just isn't the same for NFL's opening weekend. And as far as the NHL and NBA are concerned, they have zero tradition when it comes to their opening games. A few teams start on one night, a few more another night, and by the time everybody has played one game, some teams have played 2 or 3 games. Not exactly awe inspiring tradition. But baseball had that. They had it. And they blew it.

The Opening Night Sunday Night game, the night before the season starts, began a few years ago. It is nothing more than a TV, dollar-grabbing sham. There is no other good reason for it. It negates everything that made the first Monday in April so special to so many. Sure, your team might be having it's Opening Day (at home or on the road - I sat on my couch yesterday and watched the Giants Opening Day in Houston, just as happily as if I was at the ballpark) on Monday. But, some of the luster is gone, because two teams have already played. There is now an Opening Night and then a subsequent Opening Day. And it makes no sense.

Baseball has a unique opportunity to create an unofficial holiday. If all 30 teams played their opening game on the first Monday in April, it would create massive buzz around the country. 15 cities opening their seasons at home on Monday......and then the other 15 cities opening their seasons at home that Friday (it could be done, trust me).

Baseball's popularity took a hit after the strike of 1994. After it rebuilt it's popularity, it took another hit this decade with the steroids scandal. Of course, the dirty little secret that seems to elude the Commissioner's office, the fans and the media is that it was because of these bulked up hitters and massive home runs that the game even got it's popularity back in the first place following the strike of '94. But now, if baseball wants to reclaim it's rightful spot as this country's National Pastime and the popularity it once had, it needs to not go for the money grab, and go for some good, old fashioned traditionalism. Bring back Opening Day. Scrap the Sunday Night Opening Night crap.

I want to wake up on April 4, 2011, with all 30 teams 0-0. All 30 teams with statistically the same chance of winning their divisions....just for that one day. If my hometown team is home that day, I want to take the day off of work, take my son out of school early and drive down to the ballpark with him - and throngs of other parents and children - and take in the spectacle that is Opening Day. I want 15 cities to get to experience this next April 4. And quite frankly, there is no good reason for it not to happen.

Oh, and happy belated Opening Day to the Orioles and Rays. While all 28 other teams have already played, you two get to open the season today. That's just wrong.