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No place like HOME 07/14/2010

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NL players celebrate their All Star Game victory

Finally!!

After 13 years. For the first time since the game decided home field advantage for the World Series, the National League won the All Star Game. As a NL fan, I am ecstatic today. I have always rooted for the NL in the midsummer classic. The win has extra meaning for me as one of the teams that I follow in the NL is assured the advantage should they reach the World Series.

Do not misunderstand me. I HATE the rule. I think it was much more fair to shift the advantage between the leagues every other year, but, hey, the rule is

The shadows caused by the early start time gave the pitchers from both squads the early advantage

what it is and the advantage has been taken by the NL for the first time. As All Star games go, it was a fairly good one. To accommodate TV, game time was too early for a west coast site. (The game was played in Anaheim, California.) The shadows gave the pitchers a great advantage for the first half of the game. Not that these all-star pitchers needed any help. Once started, the game zipped right along. The AL scored its only run with an unearned tally in the fifth inning. Atlanta catcher Brian McCann struck a bases loaded double to plate all 3 NL runs in the seventh. That was it for the scoring. The NL had won the game for the first time since Bill Clinton was re-elected for a second term.

The Midsummer Classic is still the best of all of the All Star Games played. With a season that encapsulates Memorial Day, Independence Day and Memorial Day, and traditions that include ball park hot dogs, peanuts and Cracker Jacks, as well as the singing of God Bless America during the 7th inning stretch (see Cobie Caillat’s All Star Version HERE: http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=9915105 ), Baseball is still America’s Pastime.

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narcissism 07/08/2010

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James is ALWAYS ready to pose

Move over, Brett Favre. There is a new top ego in town.

In an act that smacks of shameless self promotion and inflated ego, LeBron James will announce what team he will grace with his presence on a one hour live special. ESPN will televise the “I love me some me!” ‘event.’ What, did they run out of Australian Rules football games to show? At least there will be an ego on the network for an hour that is even more self-centered than Craig James.

The chalk cloud signals that it is time for the LeBron James show

LeBron James is a great prize. After all, he has more championship rings than any other player in the league. Come on. I have won as many championships as he has. In honesty, there is no doubt that James is a great player. He has won back to back league MVP trophies (don’t ask me why). But this move shows again what the downside to James is. He considers himself above the game. The great ones make their teammates better. Not James. He will mug for the cameras. He will create clever skits to celebrate his birthday. But what has this guy ever won? NADA. His ego is such that everything is about him. He is the King. I have taken to calling him the court jester. All this narcissistic show does is reenforce my take. This guy will never win a title as long as he puts himself above the game. Do us all a favor, LeBron. Shut your damn mouth. And keep it shut until you WIN. Your act has worn thin. Stow the sideline skits and the chalk cloud. PLAY THE GAME and earn back the respect you have lost. Show that you are worthy of the MVP trophies and the gazillion dollar contract you are about to receive.

So far, King James is nothing more than a clown prince who is the dead center of his universe.

At What Price 06/18/2010

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The new Longhorn League, er, Big 12 logo

The Big XII survived. After Colorado left for the Pac 10 and Nebraska joined the Big Ten, it seemed that the conference was history. Reports had Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State negotiating with the Pac 10, and Texas A&M talking to the Pac 10 and the SEC. That would have left the futures of ‘the little 5’ in doubt. At the last minute, Fox Sports and ESPN sweetened the TV money, and the little five ponied up promises of cash to keep the conference together.

The little five (Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor) apparently offered to cede any penalty monies collected from the Buffs and Huskers to Texas, TAM and Oklahoma. In addition, there are reports that the little five would make up for any potential revenue loss suffered by those schools for staying in the Big XII instead of going to the Pac 10. Additionally, Texas gets to form its own network, a dream they would have been made to forgo in a move to the Pac 10. And people thought that Texas had too much power in the old arrangement!?! The little five made these concessions for two reasons. They were afraid of becoming irrelevant, of being left out of the BCS picture. (Good luck beating Texas with the advantages they now have!) They also argued that with 10 teams, their cut of the pie would be bigger, even with the extortion, er, good will payments. That may have been true, but it is only one week past the agreement and there are already storm clouds on the horizon. The Knight commission looking into college sports recommended earlier this week to lessen payouts to conferences for BCS participation and NCAA hoops participation. If these were to come to pass, the potential financial loss to the schools would be significant. Perhaps an even more ominous threat is the one coming from the Texas state legislature. It seems that they want to force this Texas-centric league to add Houston and perhaps even TCU. So much for the bigger slices of the pie.

The little five were afraid of joining the Mountain West, or another smaller conference, so they sold their souls to Texas. The reports were wrong. The Big XII is dead. Welcome to the Longhorn Conference! Long live Texas!

RIP 06/11/2010

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The Cornhuskers join the Big Ten

Colorado is heading for the Pac 10. Nebraska is joining the Big Ten. It seems that the Big XII is coming apart at the seams.

The league, formed 14 years ago when the Big Eight was somehow absorbed by the Texas schools from the dying SWC conference. Usually, the schools leaving a defunct conference are absorbed by a larger group of existing affiliated schools, but the nearly 100 year affiliation of the Big 8 schools was no match for Texas. The Longhorns are the biggest bull in the yard, and immediately control of the new conference switched from Kansas City to Dallas. It was a travesty to end the annual Oklahoma-Nebraska football game, but that donnybrook was a sacrifice to Texas wishes. The last straw for Nebraska was the Texas, um, Big 12 ultimatum to swear they were committed to the conference by Friday. Forcing the Big 10’s hand has set realignment into motion. The Big 10 was content to wait a while for Notre Dame to decide about joining them. Had that happened, Nebraska would still be in the Big 12 North and the Big 12 would still be in tact. Texas was the driving force behind the SWC demise, and despite having ‘done everything we could to save the Big 12,’ it is the driving force behind the demise of the Big 12. The Longhorns will also join the Pac 10, along with Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, forming the first 16 team Superconference. Be careful what you wish for, Pac 10. The Big 8 thought it had caught lightning in a bottle, too. It is just 14 short years after Texas joined and Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State (along with Baylor) are left to fend for themselves. Colorado made the first move West because there was a movement afoot to include Baylor and freeze out the Buffs. (Watch out, OSU!) Most of those teams will probably end up in the Mountain West.

Nebraska will fit fine into the Big 10. They will probably be better off. Now the question is, what’s next? Various outlets report thea the Big 10 (now with 12

The changes have just begun. Conferences are up in the air. Who knows where they will land.

teams) and Notre Dame are still talking. ND has always been the Jewel that the Big 10 covets. So that means 2 or 4 more teams will likely end up joining the conference eventually. It may happen quickly, or it may happen in stages. The focus now shifts east as the Big 10 eyes teams currently in the Big East and ACC. Rumors say Rutgers is in play, along with Syracuse, Pitt and others. There is a shakeup coming out east, and another conference will probably bite the dust when it is all said and done.

What of the Pac 10? I find it interesting that at the same time they are adding 6 schools, one of those institutions, Colorado, is being sanctioned by the NCAA for failing to maintain academic standards and conference standard-bearer USC has been hit with a 2 year bowl ban and lost 30 scholarships for a lack of institutional control. The Pack 10 is a mess, and Texas has not even arrived yet!

Ramblings 06/07/2010

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I snapped this picture of Ryno coaching 3rd base Sunday in Des Moines.A Monday morning mish-mash….

I spent a BEAUTIFUL Sunday afternoon watching AAA baseball in Des Moines, home of the Iowa Cubs and their current head coach Ryne Sandberg. I grew up a Cub fan, and visited Wrigley Field in most summers growing up. I have seen many Cub greats play in the Friendly Confines. Santo, Banks, Reuschel, Suter, Monday, Jenkins, Beckert, Grace, Maddox. The list goes on and on. I then watched the Cubs when they visited Coors Field when I lived in Colorado for the 90’s and most of the 00’s. I guess I have seen most every Cub great play in person for the past 40+ seasons. To me, the greatest Cub of all during that time was Sandberg. His Hall of Fame Career in Chicago has cemented him as one of the best 2nd baseman to ever play the game. During his career, he combined tremendous range and skill defensively with power at the plate. A rare combination at 2nd at the time. He was a 10 time all-star, won 9 gold gloves and 7 silver slugger awards. He was the NL MVP in 1994 and was elected to the HOF in 2005. In addition, he is still the last 2nd baseman to lead his league in home runs when he topped the NL in ’90 with 40 round trippers. I have been out to the ball yard a few times this season and I must admit it is still a thrill to see old #23 in Cubbie blue. My hope is to see him manage in Wrigley in the future……..

The Flyers allowed 7 pucks into their net in game 5 (photo Jim McIsaac-Getty images)

The Flyers are in trouble. They dropped game 5 to the Blackhawks in Chicago to go down 2-3 in the series. Sure, the home team has won all 5 games so far, but in the 3 games played in the Madhouse on Madison, Philly has had no answer for the energy the Hawks draw from the largest, and perhaps loudest crowd in the NHL. That place gets ROCKING during the National Anthem and the Flyers find themselves down before they gain their legs. Even if they can extend the series by winning a game 6 in the City of Brotherly Love, game 7 will be back in the Windy City. The Hawks WILL win the Cup!………

What a gutsy performance by the Celtics in game 2 of the NBA Finals. After failing to show up in game 1 against the Lakers and getting waxed in LA, Boston

The Celtics rose above the Lakers Sunday, capturing game 2 and sending the series to Boston tied at a game each (photo: Ronald Martinez-Getty Images)

came out and took a big lead early in game 2. To their credit, the Lakers refused to roll over, and took a lead in the 4th quarter. Boston then closed out a 16-4 run over the last 5+ minutes to take game 2, and home court advantage, away from LA. As the series now shifts to Boston, make no mistake about it, this will be a long series. If Beantown wants to prevail over Hollywood, they can not afford to take another game off as they did in game 1……

Finally, as I flipped back and forth between the NHL and NBA games on Sunday, I was reminded of an old addage. While the seconds of the last 2 minutes of the basketball game melted slowly away, the final few minutes of the hockey game flew by. It took twice as long to play the final 2 of the Celtics-Lakers than to play the final 5 of the Flyers-Blackhawks, reminding me that if you only have 2 minutes left to live, you want it to be the last 2 minutes of an NBA game.

The Horror 05/26/2010

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Snow during the '08 NFC championship game in Green Bay. (Photo from SI.com)

The NFL announced the first ever cold weather outdoor Super Bowl yesterday. The 2014 game will be played in New Jersey in an outdoor stadium. It will be the first Super Bowl game played outdoors in a city where the mean temperature for game day is below 50 degrees. It will not, however, be the first cold weather Championship game the league has played. Back in the day, before Super Bowls and domes, the game was played in the elements. There have been cold games before.

I, for one, have no problem with a game in the elements. I remember the Ice Bowl. Who can ever forget the Tuck Rule game, played in a snowstorm in New England. The MNF Green Bay at Denver blizzard game is STILL one of the most watched Monday games ever. What I find interesting is the reaction of those who do not like it. “What about the fans?” they cry. This is so unfair to the fans.

It snowed during the Oakland-NE 'tuck rule game.' (Photo from SI.com)

Since when does the NFL care about the fan? A few years ago the NFL was receiving complaints about the length of games. Seems they were cutting too far into network TV time. How did the league address the issue? Did they decrease the number of mandatory TV commercial breaks? Did they lower the play clock or decrease the number of time outs per team? No. They decreased the length of halftime, making it virtually impossible for the fans at the stadium to go to the restroom and buy a dog and a beverage without missing playing time. I have been a season ticket holder in the NFL for about 2 decades. I have had my team go to Super Bowls and have never even sniffed tickets to the game. How many real fans can afford to pay upwards of $1,000 for a ticket to the game? Forget about the cost of food, drink and a hotel room. The week before the big game is an orgy of corporate excess, a chance for the NFL to wine and dine their big sponsors. It is not for the average fan. If it were, why not play in every NFL city? Why should fans in Tampa and Phoenix and New Orleans get to host the festivities? If you are from Green Bay or Chicago or Denver, you will never get to host. Why not? If you can throw the parties in Detroit, why not Seattle or Boston? And what about the argument that the game should be played under the best possible circumstances? If that is the case, why do the games take over 4 hours to play? The Super Bowl is packed with so many commercials that there is no flow any more. Half time is almost twice as long as a normal contest for the ‘spectacular’ the NFL provides. These things are for the fans? I think not. Perhaps a good exposure to the early February elements may bring some sense back to the NFL, and to its showcase game.

The Big Apple will get its chance. I say good. Lets also reward fans in the other NFL cities. Lets make the Super Bowl a football game again.

Did anyone actually seen the Fog Bowl in Chicago on the last day of 1988? (photo from SI.com)

Pretender 05/12/2010

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James was overshadowed by the Celtics all game long (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Fifteen points! Game 5 of a best of seven playoff series tied at 2 games each, at HOME, and the best he can do is score 15 points!?! With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, Fans in Cleveland are singing “where have you gone, LeBron James, ….” King James? He looked more like Harry Houdini last night. We couldn’t find him because he kept disappearing. The Witness Protection Service wishes they could hide people as well as James hid last night. Remind me again why they keep giving this guy the MVP trophy.

Can we now stop the comparisons with Michael Jordan? The only thing Jordan and James have in common is an ego as big as all they come. The difference between them is that MJ had a heart to match that ego. And the stones to fight. James needs to man up and grow his grapes, and build some heart. Perhaps a trip with Dorothy to visit the Wizzard is in order. FIFTEEN POINTS??? In his 179 playoff games, Jordan NEVER scored so few points.

James is no MJ

Last night was the 4th time James was held to 15 or less in his 70 playoff games. Jordanesque? Hardly. MJ grabbed 6 rings while with the Bulls, including his first one in his seventh season. This is LBJ’s seventh season. If the Cavs drop game 6 in Boston, James may have played his last home game in Cleveland. Rumor has it that James will land in New York or Chicago next season. The way he plays during the playoffs, perhaps he should consider the Harlem Globetrotters. There he can showcase his ego and antics and not have to worry about outcomes. He can throw the chalk in the air and pose for imaginary cameras, play the Clown Prince and not worry about the game. The outcome is pre-ordained.

To be sure, Nike will continue to pay him his millions. The NBA will continue to fawn over him. After all, he is the King! He represents all that the NBA has become. A mere shell of itself. A joke compared to what it was when MJ and Bird and Majic were the persona of the League. But come playoff time, the Clown Prince will continue to step aside for true basketball royalty. Just like he did again last night. The King is dead. Long live the Clown Prince!!

Rocky Mountain Cy 05/04/2010

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Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez

In the bizarro world that is Major League Baseball, perhaps the oddest event of all is that a pitching star has emerged in Colorado. The rarified air of Coors Field is the home of Ubaldo Jimenez. The home of the Blake Street Bombers and 15-13 games hosts one of the best pitchers in the game. You can’t pitch at altitude, right? I can hear the cries of unfair humidor advantage already! Jimenez threw the season’s first, and so far only, no-hitter at Atlanta on April 17th.

Just a fluke, right? Wrong. In his 3 starts since the no-hitter, he has gone 3-0, allowing only one run on 11 hits and 6 walks in 20 1/3 innings pitched. Oh, and he has struck out 24 batters over that stretch. He is 6-0 so far this season with an astonishing 0.87 ERA. He is a workhorse. In his no-hitter, he threw 128 pitches. He seemed to have lost nothing, however, as his last pitch was a 97 mph fastball. He has thrown 115 or more pitches in 4 of his six starts this season. The concern among the talking heads is that he is being used too much, but he topped that count 10 times last season, with an additional 11 starts of pitch counts between 105-114. He was 15-12 last season. Something clicked during the all-star break, however, because he went 9-3 after July 17th. He is 15-3 in his last 18 decisions. His current 6 game winning streak is the second such streak in this run.

The Rockies have ridden the right arm to a 6-0 record in games he has staarted this season. They are 7-13 in the other games so far this season.

[The guy is filthy right now. He topped the 100 mph mark several times last night while setting his game career high of 13 strike outs. The only time he got in trouble, and had his 26 inning scoreless streak come to an end was when he went to the curveball too much. His sinker was simply untouchable again last night. He shows no signs of stopping any time soon. While he will not finish with an ERA under one, he is only the fifth pitcher in recent times to start 5-0 with a sub one ERA. Each of the other 4 won the Cy Young award. While it is too early to talk that award, especially with the likes of Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay in the National League, it is not to early to say that the NL pitcher of the month for April is off to an early lead. Rocky Mountain High may just become Rocky Mountain Cy.

Trashin Tebow 04/23/2010

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Tebow shortly after he was drafted by Denver

The haters were ready to pounce. The venom came so quickly and with such veracity one would think that the articles were already written, just waiting for the team and coach names to be added. The Denver Broncos and head coach Josh McDaniels did what was apparently unthinkable. They drafted Florida QB Tim Tebow with the 25th pick. BAM! The haters did a quick edit and pressed the enter button. McDaniels has sealed his fate! Career suicide. Dead coach walking. The Broncos were the NFL clowns! Surely they were the butt of jokes in every other NFL war room. The crowd assembled at Radio City Music Hall to watch the draft live (I guess because they have no life. Come on. This is the Big Apple. Home to Broadway, the Yankees and about a million other distractions, and they choose to attend the draft? And they make fun of Midwesterners for watching corn grow for entertainment! But I digress…) laughed and jeered the pick.

To be sure, there have been poor QB picks in the first round. The Chargers picked Ryan Leaf from Washington State with the number two overall pick in

Tebow after winning the National Championship

1998. Former Broncos coach picked Tommy Maddox with, interestingly, the 25th pick in the 1992 draft. Those picks did not pan out. While Leaf did lead his WSU team to the Rose Bowl, they lost to Michigan, he had only 24 total career starts and was considered by many to be a head case. He was a total bust in the NFL. Maddox came out after his sophomore season at UCLA and had done nothing of note. Reeves was fired as the Broncos head coach after the next season, but because of his problems with star QB John Elway, of which the Maddox pick was merely a part. In these cases, people were right to question the choices. People also have a right to question the Tebow pick. But be honest. All Tebow did at Florida was play a key role on the 2006 National Championship team (he was the number two QB at Florida behind Chris Leak, played in 14 games and threw for and ran for a touchdown in the National Championship game), won the Heisman Trophy in ’07, and lead the Gators to a 12-1 National Championship season in ’08. This kid is arguably one of, if not the best college QB’s of all time. There are questions about his mechanics at the NFL level, but, come on, this is not the worst pick ever.

Tim Tebow plays with heart. He is a leader. He seems to have the drive and desire to do what ever it takes to improve himself. He won a Heisman, was part of 2 National Championship teams, and he is, in the estimation of some of the haters, no better than a 5th round draft pick? Unbelievable. I guess it is his personal life that has them upset. While many athletes are getting in trouble with the law, skipping classes and creating problems, Tebow talks about his religious values. He helps in the community. He was even the subject of a ‘contraversial’ choose life Super Bowl commercial where his mom talks about having been advised to abort him because of a medical condition. Guess in the minds of the haters he would be better suited for a high draft pick if he was a rapist or ran around drinking and getting arrested. Well, I am sure of this: if McDaniels felt he could wait until the Broncos second round pick to draft Tebow, he would have. There were others looking at him in round 2 (not 5 or later). McDaniels wanted him, and he went and got him. Remember, also, that Tebow was Denver’s second pick. They drafted WR Demariyus Thomas with the 22nd pick.

Denver came into the draft with one first round pick, number 11 overall, and managed to turn that into the 22nd and 25th overall picks. And they still have a second round pick, as well as 2 third round picks after the nights activities. Was it a stretch to draft Tebow at 25? Perhaps. Was it worth the gamble? Time will tell. Was it as bad a move as the haters say? Not even close. I have never been a big Tim Tebow fan, but the bile and venom spewed immediately after his pick has put me in his corner. Not because he was drafted by the Broncos, but because the speed and fury with which the crap hit the fan made it obvious that this attack was going to be unleashed no matter who drafted him. Time will tell about this draft, as it does with any draft. I for one hope the haters are made to eat their words.

Tebow with his Heisman Trophy

Ubal-NO 04/18/2010

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Jimenez throws a pitch Saturday

Like most things human, the game pitched by Colorado Rockies pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez was far from perfect. Still, it was a masterpiece. Jimenez’s gem was only the 264th no-hitter in MLB history. 264 sounds like a lot. No big deal, really, untill you realize that there have been over 190,000 games played in MLB history.

Complain all you want about the 6 walks allowed, as if that somehow diminishes the accomplishment. Sure, the control was not there at the beginning. Still, this 26-year-old did something most pictures never do. Not one batter reached base safely via a batted ball. None. Nada. Center fielder Dexter Fowler made a tremendous catch in the 7th inning to save the feat. We have all seen that catch on highlight shows many times by now. If you didn’t actually watch the game, you may not know that Fowler also made a merely spectacular catch in the same inning. That will not diminish the feat. Almost all no-hitters have a key play or two that define the event. What many do not talk about is how Jimenez contributed to the game offensively. In the 4th inning, he came to the plate with two outs and two runners on. The Rockies were leading 1-0 at the time. He singled to center, driving in a run and advancing Ian Stewart from first to third, then took 2nd on the throw. That heads up base running play allowed him to score on Carlos Gonzalez’s double Instead of a 1-0 lead had he made an out, the Rockies finished the 4th, and the game for that matter, with a 4-0 lead. This game showed the ability of Jimenez.

Jiminez is mobbed by his teammmates after the final out

The thing is that the no-hitter came as no surprise to his teammates. Jimenez played a big role late in the 2007 season as the Rockies went on their mad run to the World Series. He won 15 games last season. To a man last night, including Manager Jim Tracey and long time Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, two old vets that are hard to impress, the Rockies talked about how they knew it would happen sooner or later for this guy. Some have been saying it since ’07. He has crazy good stuff. He consistently goes deep into games. He was in the top 5 in innings and pitches thrown in the NL last season. He makes it look effortless. In fact, his fastball was constantly hitting the speed gun at over 95 mph all night. The final pitch he threw was clocked at 98 mph. It was his 128th pitch of the evening! His teammates say he is a great guy. A real class act. One of the hardest workers on the team. As if to prove the point, did this guy rest on a job well done? Nope. There he was early Sunday morning, finishing his 6 mile run, just like he does after every start.

Congrats, Ubaldo! Keep that work ethic and this highlight is just a beginning for you. One thing is for sure. Ubaldo Jimenez is no longer one of the best pitchers that no one has heard of.

The Turner Field score board tells the story