Thursday, June 24, 2010

Why was June 23rd different from any other sports day?

Because Stephen Strasburg, and Ubaldo Jimenez's starts were shown 30 minutes into Sportscenter, behind soccer and tennis. WHAT? This is the United States of America, not England, or France. But, truth be told, this was no ordinary day for soccer and tennis, not even close. When 2 sports that are more often played by kids then be in the American sports spotlights, are focused on, then something is up. It was.

U.S Soccer has been oft tossed aside for more interesting football. Our football. We would care more if Ben Roethlisberger was arrested, then if the U.S qualified for the World Cup, the world's biggest sporting event. We were all captivated by soccer by the start of this world cup though. But, the average fan may not yet have been drawn in yet. And yesterday, that has definitely changed, due to Landon Donovan's stoppage time goal. From David Wright taking batting practice, to Josh Lewin, lisp and all in Arlington, to a tiny corner bar in Seattle, we were all fans of Soccer for 94 minutes yesterday morning. If the U.S didn't make the Sweet 16 in the World Cup, soccer would never again be as popular as it is now in the U.S. The 2018 or 2022 World Cup may have just gotten a boost to come to the U.S. And think of it, the Italians in New York and South Philly who were die hard for the Azzurri, will do so now, as Italy got the boot (joke not intended). The ESPN announcers at Wimbledon couldn't care less about the Nicholas Mahut- John Isner match at Court 18 at the All England Tennis Club. Speaking of which.......

Unless it was Nadal or Federer, no one would care about Wimbledon in the U.S. Until this day. John Isner may very well be the next good American tennis player, but that may be way in the future. In the present, these 2 played the most epic match in Tennis history. 3 days, 11 hours, more aces than in any match ever, and the 5th set could be on its own, the longest tennis match ever, and finally, 2 days after it started, Isner won 70-68 in the 5th set. This will go down as the craziest tennis match ever, and surprisingly, it got top billing on many ESPN programs. Americans actually cared. We wanted to watch it, wherever it was airing, during Thursday morning. So many match records were set, I couldn't keep track, and I love tennis. This alone would be top  billing on any normal sports day, but if you combined it with U.S Soccer, you get..........

The best sports day in a long time. I already wrote an article about May 29th, but that doesn't hold a candle to this day. These 2 amazing events combined created a sports day unlike any other, where Ubaldo Jimenez and Stephen Strasburg were upstaged by soccer and tennis. Yes, I did just say that. Our national pastime, upstaged by "football" and tennis. But, I'm happy to say that. I truly became a soccer fan watching the U.S team, try for that golden goal, and fail, until stoppage time when all hope was lost. Then they scored, and the whole country cheered. A sport that was cared about deeply by a select crowd, now cared about by the average sports fan on a farm in Oklahoma. He now knows who Landon Donovan is. That was amazing, and it got the notice of everyone. Brian Anderson during a Brewers game, Mike Patrick at the College World Series in Omaha, and back to your average pub in New York. Hey, it even put Jerry Seinfeld on notice.
Combine that with the most epic tennis match in history, and you can upstage a Jimmy Rollins walk-off home run in  Philly, and the Yanks and Mets in New York, on their local sports news.

Sports are a mysterious being. You never know what you're going to see, and yesterday was a true example of that. That is why sports are so amazing. You just never know. You could walk to Court 18 at Wimbledon, expecting to watch a simple tennis match, and see a set going 70-68 over 3 days, and a man celebrating like he just won Wimbledon. In Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, just a few miles away from the U.S embassy, with a former president in attendance, you could see the most amazing goal in U.S Soccer history, and Landon Donovan being place in the pantheon of American Sports Heroes with guys like Mike Eruzione. So, the next time your buddy wants to take you to a game you frankly don't want to see, remember, you just never know. Your ticket stub may let you be able to watch history in the making.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Westward Expansion

Or eastward, in the case of the Pac-10 (or whatever the hell it'll be called next year). Finally, after weeks of taking the headlines away from noteworthy topics in sports, college football's expansion is now done and complete. Only 4 moves happened, and they are each very notable. But honestly, its more notable what didn't happen, the existence of a super-conference.

If Texas had actually gone through with moving to the Pac-10, that would have released shock waves throughout college sports for years to come. Texas leaving the Big 12 would have caused 5 others to leave with them, the biggest of the Big 12 schools, and that would have left 5 schools out in the cold, to weather the storm of being completely irrelevant. Even Kansas would have been left out, with the great basketball program it has. But alas, they needn't worry about that, as there will be a 10 team Big "12". The big winner here, is Texas, who basically controlled the fate of college football in their president's hand. Texas, and a few other schools may end up creating their own college networks along with their lucrative TV deal for the conference, as of course, the expansion was all about money. Thank the Lord that nobody said "We want to align ourselves with the academic missions of the Pac-10 conference", because that would have been horrible PR for those of us who can read slightly between the lines at all.

I do want to talk about the 4 teams that did move conferences. The Mountain West was involved in many of these discussions, first with Boise State moving to a slightly more prestigious conference from the WAC, but, the Mountain West loses as team as quickly as it gained one, with Utah, the classic BCS Buster, moving to the Pac "10". Utah is 7-3 against the Pac "10" in their last 10 meetings, and 2 BCS wins thrown in. Now, they'll be one of the powers in a relatively weak football conference right now, with Oregon players getting arrested left and right, and USC on sanctions for awhile (Husky fans, rejoice!). "It's a great day to be a Ute!" Utah AD Chris Hill said, and it is, but Ute basketball fans may want to wait a bit,  but that doesn't matter with these expansion talks.

With Colorado and Nebraska leaving the Big 12 for the Pac "10" and Big "10" respectively, they lose a rivalry game assured every year (a Black Friday staple, if you actually cared), but they will now not be the goats of the Big 12, winning the North division only to get clubbed in the Title game by Texas or Oklahoma (not last year, exception to the rule). Now, the Big "10" can get a football title game, again for more money. Which leads me to...........

Money was the whole driving factor for this expansion, and it annoys me how the sanctity of college sports can be disturbed by university and conference boffins wanting more money in their pockets, as if they already don't make enough. Utah and Boise may not have been for money, but Colorado and Nebraska sure were, plus the Texas rumors. The money should not be an issue for these people, it should be for the love of college sports as a driving force in some of these areas where there are no professional sports teams around. Such is the life of college sports, as they do make tons of money, but it clearly shouldn't be. Leave the greed for people like Albert Haynesworth, or Gary Bettman, who work in the pros. Don't exploit the athletes anymore with expansion rumors for money, and then maybe cover them up with talks about academia. The average college sports fan is smarter than that. Also, don't ever talk about increasing the number of teams in March Madness for money, that truly isn't worth it either. Hopefully, these talks will now go away for a long time coming.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My 2010 World Cup Picks

Group A: 1) France 7 Pts 2) Mexico 5 Pts 3) Uruguay 4 Pts 3) South Africa 0 Pts
Group B: 1) Argentina 9 Pts 2) South Korea 5 Pts 3) Nigeria 4 Pts 4) Greece 1 Pt
Group C: 1) England 9 Pts 2) U.S.A 6 Pts 3) Algeria 3 Pts. 4) Slovenia 0 Pts.
Group D: 1) Serbia 7 Pts 2) Germany 5 Pts 3) Ghana 4 Pts 4) Australia 0 Pts
Group E: 1) Netherlands 9 Pts 2) Cameroon 5 Pts 3) Japan 4 Pts 4) Denmark 1 Pt
Group F: 1) Italy 7 Pts 2) Paraguay 7 Pts 3) Slovakia 3 pts 4) New Zealand 0 Pts
Group G: 1) Brazil 6 pts 2) Portugal 6 Pts 3) Côte d'Ivoire 3 Pts 4) Korea DPR 0 Pts
Group H: 1) Spain 9 Pts 2) Switzerland 6 Pts 3) Honduras 1 pt 4) Chile 1 Pt

Knockout Round: 1A) France over 2B) South Korea
                            1B) Argentina over 2B) Mexico
                            2D) Germany over 1C) England
                            2C) U.S.A over 1D) Serbia
                            1E) Netherlands over 2F) Paraguay
                            1F) Italy over 2E) Cameroon
                            1G) Brazil over 2H) Switzerland
                            1H) Spain over 2G) Portugal (What a game that'll be)
Quarters: 2D) Germany over 1A) France
               1E) Netherlands over 1G) Brazil
               1B) Argentina over 2C) U.S.A
               1H) Spain over 1F) Italy

Semis:  1E) Netherlands over 2D) Germany
            1H) Spain over 1B) Argentina

Finals: Spain 2-0 over the Netherlands y ¡Viva España!

49 is 2 less than half of 102

If you don't get what that title means, I'll tell you in plain English. Congratulations to the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions: the Chicago Blackhawks.

3 years ago no home games were shown on local TV, the Hawks had only 3400 season ticket holders, and the average attendance was 12,727, which was only 62.1% of the capacity at United Center. Only the Blues had fewer fans show up per game. Now, they have erased 49 years of frustration, pain, and "Dollar" Bill Wirtz. Hockey is now once again relevant in Chicago. If only those Cubbies could win a title, that may take another 49 years of frustration for Chicago. They're waiting Jay Cutler. Anyway, a big congrats to Jonathan Toews, who won the best forward award in the 2010 Olympic tourney, a gold medal in the same tourney, the Conn Smythe Trophy, and now a Stanley Cup, all in less than 4 months. And he's 22 years old! Also, I feel so happy for Marian Hossa, who made it to the Cup Finals in the last 2 years on the losing team, and now 3rd time's the charm for him.

The Hawks are going to have trouble keeping this team together due to the salary cap, but for whom they keep, they could be on their way to more titles. Oh, and thank new Panthers GM Dale Tallon for building the squad. Have fun parading down Michigan Avenue, Hawks, what a great ending to a great Stanley Cup Finals.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Wonderful Escapades of Philly Sports Fans

"Got Drunk, Got High, Got Tasered- Just another day at the ballpark." People of all types are selling these shirts outside of Citizens Bank Park. And, a new incident just breaking into the news from a Phils game on Sunday got me thinking about all the famous fan incidents of Philadelphia Sports, from someone who lives there, but isn't a fan (add the ph where you feel necessary).

You can say all of this bad press about Philly sports fans began when they threw snowballs at Santa Claus. This is from a time when the Eagles were truly bad, and so was Franklin Field. So bad in fact, the Christmas Pageant couldn't go on. I'm sure Eagles fans were very sad not to see it. So, a fan dressed up as Santa came out, and promptly got snowballs thrown at him. This only started the burgeoning trend of aggressiveness and downright sometimes rudeness of Philly sports fans.

The Vet was the palace of sports rudeness for the 32 years it stood. I'll just skip to the 700 level, where the cheap seats sat, and the most rude of fans in the world bought tickets for there (No flares were thrown at the park as far as I know). As Jere Longman described in his book, If Football's a Religion, Why Don't We Have a Prayer? this place had a reputation for "hostile taunting, fighting, public urination and general strangeness." Now, there may have been places like this in other venues around the globe, but none were like this one. The fights in this area were so bad, they had a courthouse underneath the stadium. The Vet's history of fan outbursts are numerous. I'll name a few for outsiders:

1) The "Bounty Bowl"
2) "Bounty Bowl II"
3) MNF losses by the Eagles to San Francisco and Dallas
4) Throwing D-Cell batteries at J.D Drew

Just some of many of the famed fan misconduct at the Vet. This leads me to the 2010 Phillies season. I'm writing this in the 2nd week of June, and there have already been 3 incidents at home games this year. The tasing incident is famous across the sports world by now, but there are 2 others that are a bit more obscure. When a fan intentionally throws up on the people in front of him, then you know you're not in the most friendly sports environment. The man who did that puked on an 11 year old girl and her dad. Flares landing on a players head in Italy is bad, but puking on the people in front of you? Not even the most rabid soccer fans would think of doing that. Soccer fans in Britain may have clever taunts, but they have nothing on drunk Phillies fans standing above the visitors bullpen. But, this one recent incident may be the craziest out of the many happening in Philly sports history.

A fuzzy CSN camera video caught a young child, looking about age 4, according to the AP, attempting to drink from a beer bottle. WHAT? No adults were paying attention to this either? The Phillies have assumed the bottle was empty, and I hope to God it was. This is beyond snowballs at Santa, batteries at J.D Drew, or "Taze Him! Taze Him!" One fan on the Philadelphia Inquirer's website said, "This is most likely not as it seems, but let's see how many national New York-based media outlets jump on this one. THESE ARE ISOLATED AND UNRELATED INCIDENTS! WE ARE NOT ALL LIKE THIS!"  (Writer's note: The caps were NOT added by me for effect). Most fans aren't serving beer to 4 year olds, and I accept that. And, whoever this fan was, he is right not all of Philly sports fans are like that. But, the select few that are, have defined Philadelphia sports culture for 40 years with their grotesque, and frankly stupid actions. I don't condone any of what Philly sports fans have done in the past, but these incidents this year brought back my thoughts of why Philadelphia sports fans are the craziest, weirdest, and sometimes, the most passionate fans in sports.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Mysterious Case of a Stolen Perfect Game in the Detroit Nighttime

Now I'm sure you've all heard about this. Armando Galarraga had a perfect game through 8 & 2/3 innings against the Indians. SS Jason Donald hit a ground ball to Miguel Cabrera, who threw it to Galarraga, who was covering first. 1B Ump Jim Joyce called Donald safe, ending the perfect bid, and no-hitter. In real time, it looked to be too close to call. But upon further review from the broadcasters from both sides:

He clearly snow coned the ball, which is a catch, his foot is on the bag, and Donald is half a step behind the play. He's clearly out. No doubt about this.

So, what do we do now? Joyce apologized to Galarraga, cried, and hugged him. He even admitted, "I just cost that kid a perfect game." He's already taken enough ridicule from sports fans, sports writers, and probably Leno and Letterman are to follow. Jim Joyce has done everything in his power to remedy this situation, and I applaud him for that. That is all you can ask of the man for getting the call wrong. But, this leads me to a bigger question: What is the problem with Blue this year?

The Umpiring this year has been horrible. From Joe West tossing 2 White Sox for the same thing, to Angel Hernandez calling the Rays' Shawn Rodriguez out for not touching 3rd when he clearly he did, this years umpiring has been atrocious. This is the worst I have ever seen it. Baseball needs instant replay now. All the other 3 major sports have it in some form, and it can save many a wrong call. Baseball only has it for homers. They need to expand it to everything but balls and strikes. With that, this call would have been reversed, and this mess would've been avoided. Even though baseball games are long, I would sacrifice 15 minutes for the integrity of the game, and for the right call. Lance Berkman's "check swing" on Tuesday night would have been correctly called, as he clearly went around, and that would have been the 3rd out of the inning, and the Nats would have won. Instead, Berkman hits a 2-run game winning single. Now, I don't think that the Nats will come close to cracking the postseason this year. But, what if they are close? This game could come back to the forefront. That bad call decided a game. That is why baseball needs instant replay now. It will save the game from the humiliation it's suffering now.

The Tigers are treating the game like it was a PG, which is perfectly fine. GM is even giving Galarraga a brand new Chevy Corvette. But, is that enough to remedy the problem? Not a chance. There have been  egregious calls in the past, in the World Series, that have decided champions. Bud Selig has said he won't reverse the call (which shows why he's a horrible commissioner), but baseball is looking at expanded instant replay and umpiring. This is the only way human error of the umps can be fixed. What if the NFL didn't have instant replay? The Patriots may never be as good as they became due to the Tuck Rule (even if it was a bad call), and Ed Hochuli would never have admitted his major mistake when blowing the whistle on Jay Cutler. If the NHL didn't have replay, "No Goal" may have never been recognized, and the rule for skate in the crease would be gone.

The truth is, if this was in the 4th inning of a 5-5 game between Cleveland and Houston, no one would give a damn. But, this took away history, and now officially at least, can never be rightfully given to Armando Galarraga. Bud Selig, here is the lesson to be learned. Instant Replay is necessary for baseball, not next year, not in August, it's needed now. What if another perfect game is taken away, what would you say then?