Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kobe's Turnover

I dislike Kobe Bryant. I root against him when he is on the court. I think that he is a phony and only cares about himself. He's thrown teammates under a bus. He's thrown his family into the spotlight because of his own negative actions. In all sincerity, I am extremely biased against anything involving Bryant.

But I believe the outrage over Bryant's latest action is unjust.

Now someone might be thinking "Wait a minute, this is the perfect situation to completely rip the guy apart?"

Absolutely. He said a derogatory comment about gay people. He made the comment on the national stage. His comment has been seen millions of times on YouTube, blogs, televesion, etc. But I truly believe that it was all in the heat of the moment.

I'm not a professional athlete nor claim to be one. But I completey get it. You get frustrated. Your focus is on doing your best. And you say something out of pure emotion. Bryant just happened to say something that was way over the line.

My issue is that society takes things over the line. It was a mistake. It was in the moment. Had it screamed it in the locker room or into his towel, no one would have even known. But celebrities are always looked at under a microscope. Cameras are on them 24/7. They have to watch their every move. They can't make mistakes.

When a husband and wife are arguing and a husband goes "I hate you!" to his wife, does the husband mean that?

I am not justifying what was said. But rather than people be offended by every little thing, I think society needs to take a step back and understand that lapses are going to happen. He probably heard this type of language while he was growing up. It was engrained in his head. It doesn't mean he believes it, but this was in his upbringing.

And that is where the root of the issue lies. I think kids and young adults need to be further educated on what is right to say and what is not. Parents need to be the teachers. The education system needs to make it a focal point. Society should do what they can to eliminate offensive words.

Bryant was taught a hard lesson. But he should not try to take away from the emotions that have made him the (gulp) best player in the NBA.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Favorite Ballpark Seats

I love going to baseball games. As a fan, nothing excites me more than sitting down in my seat and taking it all in. Each time I go to a ballpark, it is a new experience for me.

Now, the average fan can’t afford to sit in the first row behind home plate. But there are plenty of great seats in a stadium, and I take a closer look into my favorite seats.

-The Right Field Bleachers

Most ballparks have some type of bleacher seats. Some are pretty deep in (Fenway Park) while others are really high up (Citi Field). But 85% of the excitement from these seats is catching a home run. I’ve never caught a home run before, but I feel like it would be an amazing achievement to do so. The key is to sit about 5-6 rows back in the bleachers, because you not only have the best chance to catching a long ball, but you also get an elevated perspective of the game. Another tip is to get to the ballpark about two hours before the game for batting practice, because you have a very good chance of getting balls hit your way.

-Field Level in between the foul polls and either first or third base.

Obviously any chance you get to sit Field Level is a golden one, but not every seat gets the job done. But if you are an autograph seeker or just enjoy watching warmups, this seat is for you. Most players don’t sign before games, but just being able to watch their interactions is a joy. I’d also use these seats to get to the ballpark about an hour before the game. Once you are in the Field Level, most teams let you roam around. So I’d highly recommend using this time to sneak down by the field and hopefully get your favorite player’s attention. And of course, once it is game time, you get an awesome perspective of the entire field.

-Third Deck right behind home plate

While being three decks up turns some away, this might be the best seat to watch a baseball game. You can see everything to perfection. No one is blocking up, you are elevated to the perfect height, and there is also a chance to catch a foul ball. These seats are normally one of the best values too. A Camden Yards, you can spend on average about $22 for one of these seats, as opposed to sitting in the second deck by the left field foul pole (A tough seat to see a game), spending $45.

-First row of field level, behind home plate

Fine, I had to throw this in here because I was lucky to sit in this seat for a game. There really is nothing like it. Forget about the fact that you are on the field. But you sit there with your jaw wide open, watching every single pitch as if it was Game 7 of the World Series. You can see the spin on the ball, the velocity of the pitches, and can feel the crack of the bat. When a foul ball comes to the back of the netting, you almost get whip lash from how hard it comes at you. Honestly, as weird as it sounds, you can’t even follow the actual game because you get completely caught up in everything else. But this seat is truly breath taking and completely changes your experience at a ballpark.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Stop Freaking!

We live in a society of immediacy. People tweet, post on Facebook, carry around smart phones, and get all of their news even before news happens. We need to know everything before everyone else. And with that comes the immediate need for success.

So I want to give sports fans the best advice you'll ever hear. Stop freaking!

Tiger Woods will win eight more majors in the next decade. Just because he hasn’t won one in the last two years does not mean his skills have eroded. He was plagued with drama and had to completely change his life around. Yet he still finished in the Top 10 in back-to-back Masters. Woods will be fine, so stop freaking!

The Yankees and Red Sox will be fighting for the AL East come September. The Red Sox lose a few early games and they need to panic. The Yankees fall two out of three to the same Red Sox and they are old. Let’s be real here. The baseball season is just too long. There’s always this debate of “Are April games meaningless?” No, April games are not meaningless, but when there are 150 games left to play, everything evens out. The good teams win and the bad teams lose. Even if the Yankees lose their next game, its only one game, so stop freaking!

So where did this freaking come from? I definitely feel that the social networking world is part of the problem. Everyone has to magnify everything. A pitcher gives up a three-run homer, and we need to over analyze to pitch, the command, and the location. Soon enough, people get ingrained in their heads negativity and we then believe that the pitcher is now bad. You log onto Twitter, follow 35 fans and writers, and all you see flooding your page is posts on the three-run homer. Then you get involved in the discussion as well, and it completely blows up. One pitch does not make a season, so stop freaking!

I also think football is one of the roots of the issue. Football is the shortest of all of the seasons. It is also the most watched and elicits the most in-game attention. So when your team loses a game, you have to worry. One game is almost 6% of a season. And when football is over, the conditioning it gave us to be into every play carries over to the other sports. Football is unique in its length, but every other sport requires patience. And not every sport is football, so stop freaking!

Sorry to fantasy sports players (including myself), but we can throw that into the blame game. When your own money and pride is on the line, it makes you worry rather quickly. You smell that $5000 first prize, so every week needs to be near perfect. Brandon Phillips is doing to have a bad week. But you drafted him in the 5th round and he’ll produce like a fifth rounder, so stop freaking!

There’s a time to worry, just give things time to settle. And stop freaking!

Party Like it's 1997

When kids are brought up in a sports-loving household like I was, there comes a time when the indoctrination translates into actual fandom. Around the age of six or seven, you start having vivid memories of individual games or players. I remember the Jets getting knocked out of the 1991 playoffs by the Houston Oilers, for instance. I was six years old.

So, these are the formative years. Once you start understanding the game, its meaning, and its performers, you forge an unbreakable bond with the team. And you never forget the moments that made you the fan you are today.

I was fortunate enough during this part of my life, then, to experience a golden age of sorts in New York that did not revolve around the New York Yankees, who are responsible for almost all of this city's sports glory. From the late 1980's through 1997, the New York Rangers and New York Knicks were good enough to compete for championships almost every single year. Madison Square Garden rocked every spring, from April to May, and sometimes into June. It was not at all uncommon for Mark Messier and Patrick Ewing to trade the back pages of the tabloids on a daily basis.

Of course, this all peaked in 1994. On the hardwood, the Knicks had dealt with Michael Jordan-induced heartbreak in 1991, 1992 and 1993. But 1994 was the year MJ decided to give baseball a shot. On the ice, the 1992-1993 Rangers, one year removed from winning the President's Trophy with the league's best record, missed the playoffs after an absolutely epic collapse, losing their final seven regular season games.

So for both teams, 1994 represented a chance - the best chance - to right some previous wrongs. To give their starved fanbases the championship they'd been coveting for decades.

We know how it all turned out. For the Rangers, the captain delivered on his promise, the Rangers' first Stanley Cup in 54 years. For the Knicks, more heartbreak for their unquestioned leader (and the city he carried on his broad shoulders and failing knees) because his hardworking, loyal supporting cast came up just a little bit short in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

The years that followed brought more great playoff memories - think Wayne Gretzky's hat trick and Allan Houston's winner in Miami - however, even if there was no championship trophy ceremony at the end of the line.

And then, in 1998, things began to change. The bright lights of Madison Square Garden ever so slightly began to fade as the weather warmed in mid-April. Sure, the Knicks were still fielding strong teams, and made an unlikely run to the NBA Finals in 1999, but everyone knew that Patrick Ewing had entered the twilight of his career. Pretty soon, Ewing was unceremoniously traded and Isiah Thomas was manning the ship.

For the Rangers beginning in 1998, big-money signings turning in listless performances was a nightly occurrence at the World's Most Famous arena. The Garden became a retirement home, where players like Eric Lindros, Bobby Holik, Pavel Bure and Mark Messier II could show up for a leisurely twirl around the rink, and still collect a nice paycheck at the end of the night. The result: no playoffs from 1998-2004 (plus the lockout-cancelled 2004-05 season).

Since 1997, the Knicks and Rangers have appeared in the playoffs a combined total of nine times, and not once in the same season. Until now.

On Saturday night, the Rangers sat and watched coach John Tortorella's former team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, trash the Carolina Hurricanes 6-2, thereby securing the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot for the Blueshirts. Six days earlier, the Knicks defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers at home to clinch their first playoff berth in seven seasons. For the first time in 14 years, there will be playoff hockey and playoff basketball at Madison Square Garden.

No one from either fanbase is naive enough to think that the Rangers or Knicks are serious contenders, but that's not really the point this season. The point is that this could be the first season in a run that may very well resemble what we witnessed in the late 80's and early 90's.

Think about it: The Rangers have one of the strongest foundations of any team in the NHL. They have spent the 2010-2011 season forging an identity behind, as cliche as it all sounds, hard work, selflessness and sacrifice. Look no further than Ryan Callahan throwing his body in front of a 104 MPH slap shot by Zdeno Chara to preserve a late-season victory against the Boston Bruins. They have a world class goaltender and are one or two high-skill players (Brad Richards anyone?) away from contending for a Stanley Cup every single year.

Meanwhile, the Knicks have spent the last three seasons gutting their roster to give themselves the cap flexibility to add superstar talent, which is the only route to a championship in the Association. When LeBron James chose the palm trees and fake tans in Miami, the Knicks went to a hell of a Plan B: Amar'e Stoudemire. While no one would ever mistake STAT for Patrick Ewing in the post or on the defensive end, his demeanor is fitting of a Knicks captain, and one that fans can embrace. Carmelo Anthony has come to New York and flamboyantly stolen the spotlight; and a few wins with some last-second heroics as well.

The Rangers are gearing up to square off against the Washington Capitals, starting Wednesday. The Knicks will begin a bloodbath with either Miami or the Boston Celtics next weekend. It's going to be fun, so it's time to settle in and cherish this, the first truly exciting spring at MSG in almost a decade and a half.

The lights are shining brightly on Broadway again. The playoffs are back in New York.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Five Worst Hitters in Baseball

The criteria: You have to be an active player having played at least five seasons in the majors. You also must have at least three seasons with at least 300 at-bats or more. Batting average and power will be equally taken into account, so even if you bat .230 but hit 30 HRs, you probably won’t be showing up on the list.

The reason: For some reason, I love seeing athletes fail. Maybe part of it is because I was never good enough to sniff any type of professional sport, so why not watch professionals stoop to my level.

5) Gerald Laird: Catchers are always fun to look up, because there are plenty of bad ones. Laird stands out because he is an overrated defensive catcher. Yes, he can throw out base runners (174 out of 458), but he’s also committed 42 career errors. But we need to take a closer look at the hitting. Where do we even begin? Should we start with a career .300 OBP? How about the .241 average? Laird is just a mess of a hitter, strike out about once every five at-bats. Laird is still 32, so he’s got a few more years of horrendous hitting left in him.

4) Craig Counsell: It’s tough to put Counsell on the list because by next year, he’ll probably be retired (He’s 40). Counsell though deserves not just a spot here, but a lifetime achievement award. In 4588 career ABs, Counsell has just 41 HRs and a .257 batting average. He’s never hit over .300 in seasons in which he has amassed over 300 at bats (6 in total), and his best year was in 2005 when he hit 9 HRs and knocked in 52 runs. Counsell’s batting stance is one of the most awkward in baseball history, and so are his numbers.

3) Jack Wilson: Wilson has always been a favorite of mine to watch, because there isn’t anything about his hitting that scares anyone. When he first came into the league, he was considered a decent prospect because of his glove. But people quickly realized that Wilsoncouldn’t do much more. He had two semi-decent seasons -- .308 average in 2004 and a .296 average in 2007—but unfortunately, Wilson could never build any type of momentum. He has a career average of .267 in over 4600 at-bats while hitting just 61 HRs. Wilson’s longevity is based around his fielding, but even that is starting to deteriorate. Wilson is still just 33, so maybe he has one more double-digit HR season in him (he’s had two).

2) Ronny Cedeno: Cedeno is such an enigma because he actually has some hitting skills. He had two minor-league season where he batted over .350 while amassing double-digit steals. But for some reason, Cedeno just can’t figure out major-league pitching. What separates Cedeno is his strikeouts (369 in 1732 career major-league at bats) along with a .245 career average. The pop is somewhat there (31 HRs), but he’s a complete mess at the plate. Cedeno somehow still has a job despite a 2010 season where he hit .256 with just 38 RBIs in over 450 at-bats.

1) Cesar Izturis: His ten-year career has been full of mediocrity. In over 4000 at-bats, Izturis has hit just 15 HRs while having a .256 career average. Izturis has some speed (109 career SBs, but I doubt any of his seven major league teams would want him up in a big spot. Izturis batted over .280 just once (2003), but has always been known more for his glove than his bat.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I Am Tired of....

There are quite a few things that annoy me in sports. So why not list some of mine? I’m sure we all have our own, and hopefully you’ll agree and agree to disagree. So, I am tired of……

….hearing people think the Red Sox are going to win the World Series in 2011.

It’s not going to happen. Forget the fact that I am a diehard Yankee fan and I hate the Red Sox with a passion. But money doesn’t buy championships; we’ve seen it over and over again. And when teams buy players, it takes time to construct a team. The Red Sox have huge flaws that people are just overlooking.

a) They can’t pitch: Jon Lester is good, and Clay Bucholtz is solid, but they have no starting pitching beyond that (And stop with the “Josh Beckett will rebound” argument. Just stop)

b) They don’t have a bullpen: After Daniel Bard, who can be trusted?

c) Someone will get hurt: Adrian Gonzalez is coming off shoulder surgery, Kevin Youkilis is hurt every two months, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury were hurt last year. There’s no way they all stay healthy.

d) The competition is better: Whether people want to believe it or not, the Yankees are still the Yankees. The entire AL East is much better, and the White Sox, Athletics, Tigers, and Twins will all challenge for the Wild Card if they don’t win their divisions.

...the talk about expanding the the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

How many companies would kill for the popularity the NCAA has? Yet the NCAA needs to change that. I understand tweaking little things about the tournament, but to alter the structure that everyone has fallen in love with, I just don’t get it. We are heading towards a 96-team tournament, and then a 128-team tournament, and soon enough, every team will be in the tournament. I love doing my bracket exactly how it currently is (Isn’t that why 98.3% of Americans watch the tournament anyways?). And expanding the tourney will completely backfire in the face of the NCAA.

…seeing Tiger Woods suck.

Look, I get it. The guy cheated on his wife 9000 times. But we are not fans of athletes for what they do outside of their sports. We are fans of them once they step inside. And when he is on his game, Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time. Golf fans are spoiled because few remember when we didn’t have Tiger Woods. The guys people were rooting for were Nick Faldo and Greg Norman. While they were solid golfers, people love to root for the best. And for a decade, Tiger Woods was the best. Imagine baseball where the best hitter is Torii Hunter, or football where the best QB is Matt Cassel. Would you really care then?

…when people try to talk to me when I am using my iPod

If you see me with my headphones on, just know that I am not going to hear you when you talk to me. And don’t roll your eyes at me if I can’t hear you. I know this has nothing to do with sports, but doesn’t everyone get annoyed by this?

…Geno Auriemma

Does anybody like this guy?

…sports not using technology to its advantage

It’s the year 2011. We carry around portable computers and can stream a movie while sitting in a local park. I can call someone in India for practically free. And yet, referees still spend 10 minutes wondering if a ball is fair or foul. Sports have a ton of money. Put it towards the game, not towards a player’s salary.

I love what tennis does. They use high-tech lasers and crazy computers, and within two seconds, you’ll know whether a ball is in or out. You think tennis has half the funds the MLB has? But we still can’t figure out safe or out, ball or strike. When there is so much on the line, the calls need to be right.

And the naysayers will say “Oh, but a sport needs that human element to it.” So you’d rather a call be wrong than right? It just never made any sense.

…the same college basketball coaches get a pass for poor performance

How many years will it take for Pittsburgh to suck before we can say Jamie Dixon is not a good coach? What about Kevin Stallings? Rick Pitino? The list goes on and on.

Teams should have one goal, to win the national championship. Yet every year, the same highly-ranked teams enter postseason play and completely falter. Stallings of Vanderbilt has coached 18 years, has a record of 358-210, has made seven NCAA tournaments. How many times has he made it to the Elite Eight? Zero.

Bill Self is another one. Yes, he won a National Championship, but that was his only Final Four appearance in eight years with Kansas. This is the same Kansas team that in that time period, never finished lower than second in their conference and has not lost double-digit games in a season. Yet Self continues to take his teams to the NCAA (teams that are probably Top five in most talented) and whiff in big spots.

Rick Barnes is my favorite example. 13 years with Texas, 199 games over .500, and not a single appearance in a championship game. This guy had Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustine and couldn’t get out of opening weekend.

Teams need to take a stand. Stop accepting mediocrity. Your players deserve better. So do your fans.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Most Maddening March Madness Ever

It's been a wild ride so far.

The first play-in team has made it past the first round.

All 4 Number 1 seeds have been sent packing.

Butler, again, has found a way to make it to the Final 4.

And now we're here- with only 3 games left to play until 1 team is crowned national champions.

How much crazier can it get? Here are your expert picks for this weekend. Bet wisely my friends, bet wisely:

Uconn +2.5

How on god's green earth can you bet against Kemba. Time and time again, since the beginning of the Big East tournament this guy has been unstoppable. Not only is he racking up massive amounts of points per game, but he's making his supporting cast ridiculous. I don't want to take anything away from Kentucky, they've been playing some amazing basketball, knocking off Ohio State and UNC respectively. Brandon Knight is playing out of his mind right now, but I still don't trust any team that comes out of the SEC, sorry guys, I'm from NJ, I live on Big East Basketball.

This game will be heartwrenchngly close (do you expect anything less?), thus the reason you have to take Uconn with the points. Calipari v Calhoun- I can't wait.

Final Score- Uconn 74 Kentucky 70

Butler ML

VCU what can you say about you?? You squeaked into the tournament with the new play-in style and knocked off powerhouses Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and finally Kansas. Nobody in the country even knew who you were 2 weeks ago, and look at you now.

Now that I'm done praising VCU I'll explain why you pick Butler in this game.

Butler finds ways to win. Plain and simple. With pipsqueak coach Brad Stevens at the healm, this team has a good shot of winning the whole thing (see 2010 Duke v Butler championship game). This coach is a phenom- 2nd year Butler coach, and already 2 final 4s. I truly believe coaching is everything and I couldn't pick the VCU coach out of a lineup.

VCU has gone on amazing run, but it ends this weekend. The week off will hurt them and they will finally come down to earth.

I don't see how you can bet against Butler after seeing a repeat of what happened last year, although the spread is a bit scary. Spend the money-take the money line, you don't want to get screwed by a buzzer beater.

Final score Butler 71-VCU 69

Opening Day

“The greatest figure the world of sport has ever known has passed from the field. Game called on account of darkness. Babe Ruth is dead. There have been mighty champions in their day and time from John L. Sullivan to Jack Dempsey – such stars as Bobby Jones, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, on and on, who walked along the pathway of fame. But there has been only one Babe Ruth – one Bambino, who caught and held the love and admiration of countless millions around the world.”

-Grantland Rice, 1948

I used to read baseball columns by Red Smith and Grantland Rice in my sportswriting class, mouth agape. Now, this was writing. They wrote great columns about other sports, too, but there’s just something about baseball that lends itself to flowery writing and beautiful imagery more than any other sport. It has a majestic quality about it. It just seems so much more important than any sport. Like this sport might actually matter.

Opening day is always a special time, too.

Perhaps it’s the fact that in April, everybody is .500. Every team is in the race and every team has hope. And who doesn’t love hope? Who doesn’t love new beginnings, fresh starts? Anything is possible.

Perhaps it’s the fact that baseball begins at the advent of spring. One of the best times of the year, it signifies that summer is just around the corner. And who doesn’t love summer? More importantly, who doesn’t love being at a baseball stadium during the summer? For three hours, there is nothing but the game.

Perhaps it’s the fact that this is America’s oldest sport. We have seen the pictures of people wearing another era’s clothing, top hats and suits, all at the ballpark to watch the greats. It’s amazing to think that Albert Pujols and Babe Ruth played the same sport. So much has changed and yet so much has stayed the same. No other sport had an opening day so long ago, in such a different time.

But, it’s something more than any of these things. It has to do with the actual game itself. The layout of the field. The gargantuan stadiums. The freshly cut grass, the hot dogs, the beer, the vendors, the everything.

So, what is it that’s so beautiful about baseball? What is it about this game that makes it seem like it’s more than a game? What’s so gorgeous about someone hurling a ball 90 feet towards a five-sided piece of rubber, hoping beyond all hope that someone holding a bat won’t hit the ball 450 feet over a fence into the dark night sky? What’s so magnificent about someone with a glove diving, contorting, sacrificing his body just so a ball scorched 6,000 miles an hour can land safely in his mitt, all to record a single out? What’s so glorious about someone hitting a ball deep into the corner of the outfield, running, running, hustling, hustling, just to make it to a square bag called third base, and sometimes, miraculously, back home where he started.

What’s so beautiful about baseball? Who knows. But there’s just something about it, something I’ll never place or be able to describe, that makes it the most visually gorgeous of all sports. All I know is I’m happy it started yesterday. I’m excited to see these things, these indescribable things on a baseball diamond, things that make me think, for three or so hours, that everything will be alright and that everything in this world is beautiful.

-Flying Murino

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