December 4, 2013

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In Case You Missed It – November

By: Joe Williams

How about that finish in the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn? Pretty crazy right. We’ve all heard about that by now. And that game between the Patriots and Broncos was pretty good too. They are just two of the big sports stories we’ve seen in the last few weeks, but there are a lot more that are just as strange but don’t get as much attention. Here’s a few that I like.

One of the fastest sprinters in history, Usain Bolt, recently revealed that he ate around 1,000 chicken nuggets from McDonalds during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing while he was winning gold medals in the 100 meter, 200 meter, and 4×100 meter relay events.

Speaking of Olympians, swimmer Ryan Lochte was injured by a teenage girl. She was an excited fan and ran at him and when he caught her, they both went down and he hit his knee on a curb and wound up with a torn MCL and sprained ACL.

Ryan Lochte

We found out in November that Ryan Lochte had been injured when he was run into by a teenage fan.

A cross country runner in Kentucky opted not to run in the regional championships because she was assigned the number 666 for the bib she was to wear on her chest. She requested to change numbers for religious purposes and the request was denied by race officials.

A man was arrested for using a taser on his wife because of a bet between the two regarding the outcome of a Monday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. The couple had agreed that the loser of the bet would be tasered by the winner and after the Bears pulled out the win, the man used the stun gun on his wife’s butt twice and once on her thigh. She called the cops and he went to jail.

Kansas State attempted to lure students to attend the women’s basketball season opener by giving away five slices of bacon to any student that presented a valid ID.

A freshman player on the Georgetown women’s basketball team tried to stop an opponents shot in a game against Richmond by throwing her shoe at the ball while it was in flight.

The NCAA took away a year of eligibility from a cross country runner at BYU because he “competed” in a recreational costume race.

Toronto Blue Jays‘ slugger Jose Bautista received a letter from a young fan who tried to recruit him to the Texas Rangers and even recommended the contract Bautista would be worth to the new team.

Corey “Thunder” Law of the Harlem Globetrotters set a new world record for the longest basketball shot by making a bomb from just over 109 feet away.

An assistant football coach in Tennessee was arrested and charged for vandalizing his own school. He committed the crime in an attempt to frame the opponent in his teams rivalry game with the hopes that it would inspire his team to win the game. They lost 35-17.

A coyote stole the show when it joined in the Arizona cross country state championship race. It disappeared back into the brush after making a short appearance at the front of the pack.

Jacksonville defender Jason Babin came away from a tackle with a handful of Arizona running back Andre Ellington’s dreadlocks.

Michigan State got some help from the crowd in avoiding an upset loss against Columbia. The Spartans led by just two points with about three minutes to play when the student section helped out the defense by mistiming its shot clock countdown on two consecutive Columbia possessions. The Lions didn’t attempt a shot either time and turned the ball back to Michigan St. who ended up winning 62-53.

Just over a year after Jack Taylor of Grinnell College set the single-game collegiate scoring record with 138 points, Taylor was at it again, scoring 109 points in a 173-123 win over Crossroads College.

J.R. Smith of the New York Knicks received $60 in the mail from a fan as part of a “NBA 2K13″ bet.

A Wisconsic couple named their newborn after Aaron Rodgers after the baby was born with the same injury (broken left collarbone) that the Packers quarterback is currently healing from.

David Murphy’s free agent signing with the Cleveland Indians was leaked by his young daughter at her daycare.

The PBA started using blue dye to show viewers the oil on the lanes in an effort to help fans better understand the challenges facing the pros.

North Carolina whipped Old Dominion so bad (80-20) that both teams agreed to shorten the fourth quarter to end the misery.

A golfer from Wales made a hole-in-one to get into contention in the World Cup of Golf and then played himself out of contention on the very next hole by carding an 11.

The Chicago Cubs, a team that is known for having a loyal fan base despite not winning a World Series in more than a century, has asked one of their biggest fans, an 11-year-old girl no less, to stop getting so excited at the games.

The Georgia Southern Eagles were paid $550K to play at Florida and entered the game as a four touchdown underdog. They beat the Gators 26-20 without even completing one pass in the entire game.

Rudy Gay has banned stat sheets from the Toronto Raptors‘ locker room.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are trying to distract kickers with a dramatic gopher video when the kickers are facing the giant video board.

Jason Kidd was fined $50,000 for intentionally spilling his drink on the court when he didn’t have any timeouts left an needed to stop the game to set up a final play against the Lakers.

April 25, 2011

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Biggest Surprises of 2011 MLB Season

By: Anson Whaley

I know, I get it – the MLB seasonis really just getting underway, and many fans aren’t even paying attention yet with the NBA and NHL playoffs dominating the sports world. But some early season surprises are still worth noting – here are a few:

The Boston Red Sox

What’s going on in Beantown? The Sox were picked by many prognosticators to not only reach the playoffs, but win the World Series. Until this recent hot stretch, though, Boston’s lineup of All Star MLB players hasn’t translated into a lot of wins. So why the early struggles? Offseason acquisition Carl Crawford is batting around .150 – about ½ the production at the plate most expected. Another player picked up, Adrian Gonzalez, has only one home run to date after hitting 31 last year. And Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis, both near .300 career hitters, are batting a little over .200. In a nutshell, too few players are contributing far too less.

The verdict: All of the aforementioned MLB players are veterans and likely just off to slow starts. I expect the current hot streak to continue; the Red Sox will turn things around and sneak into the MLB playoffs. 

AL Central

Over in the AL Central, things have been literally upside down. On the bottom of the standings, there are perennial contenders, the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. The Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royalsare sitting on top and are doing it with offense – both MLB teams are tied for first-place in the league in scoring runs. Neither was expected to do much, but each squad has some young players stepping up, including Indians’ pitchers Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin (a combined 7-0) and the Royals’ Alex Gordon, who looks to be finally cashing in some of his enormous potential, hitting over .350.

The verdict: Neither MLB team has had much trouble scoring runs to date, but the Indians have had some of the best pitching in baseball. Because of that, Cleveland should be able to contend throughout the duration of the season, but I expect the Royals to drop off a bit at some point…especially without former ace Zach Greinke, who went to Milwaukee in the offseason.

Jose Bautista

After doing little in five seasons in Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Kansas City, Bautista slugged a league-leading 54 home runs last year for the Toronto Blue Jays. While his past track record didn’t indicate he was capable of such a year, he proved everyone wrong with a highly-publicized alteration to his swing. Many have been anxious to claim that last year was a mere fluke (a la Brady Anderson circa 1996), but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Bautista is again leading the AL with seven home runs and is batting .360 – more than .100 points over his career average. Jose’s on pace for another 50+ home run season and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

The verdict: Pitchers are starting to catch on to the fact that Bautista is a real threat, as evidenced by his league-leading 19 walks. Because of that, his home runs should dip a bit, but I’m not betting against him for another big year.

The Mediocrity that is the NL Central

It’s early, but the NL Central is looking like it will produce a .500-ish champion. Heading into the Sunday night matchup between the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals, both were tied for the Division lead at 11-10 with the Milwaukee Brewers. The 10-11 Cubs were only a game back, while the Pirates (9-12) and Astros(8-14) weren’t far behind. With only 3.5 games separating the first- and last-place teams, this is the tightest division in all of baseball. The NL Central appears to be wide open and could be reminiscent of 1997, when the race went right down to the wire with the Astros taking the title with only 84 wins.

The verdict: Predicting a winner in this Division would be akin to predicting when Charlie Sheen will utter another iconic phrase or when Donald Trump will call out another celebrity, but I’ll go with the Reds.  I also think that by the MLB season’s end, there will be a clear separation of the top three teams (Reds, Cardinals, and Brewers) and the bottom three (Cubs, Pirates, Astros). There’s also not much pitching in the NL Central, so there will be some big numbers offensively by some of the individual MLB players in the division.

The New York Mets

When you look at the Mets’ lineup, consisting of great MLB players like Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Jason Bay, you expect great things. But so far, this season has looked like the past two when the club finished under .500, despite the big payroll. In all fairness, though, New York has had to deal with some major injury issues. The team is missing staff ace Johan Santana, who is on the disabled list with an elbow injury and not expected to return until June or July. And the aforementioned Bay just began his season, coming off of a DL stint of his own.

The verdict: With so much talent, it’s hard to see the Mets finishing below .500 again. While they don’t have the horses to compete with the Phillies (few teams do), a second-place or even Wild Card chase isn’t out of the question if they can stay healthy and add a pitcher down the stretch.

April 18, 2011

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Becoming A Pittsburgh Pirate Fan

By: Anson Whaley

I’d love to say there’s some warm and fuzzy tale of me being a Pittsburgh Pirates fan since childbirth, but there’s really not. See, I grew up in north-central Pennsylvania, but my affinity as a young kid for Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, combined with the fact that New York’s channels reached down to our cable provider, officially made me a Mets fan. The only thing I knew about the Pirates was that … well, they were one of the MLB teams that played against the Mets.

I was too young, really, to understand why Dwight Gooden had stopped pitching for the Mets when he was suspended for cocaine use in 1987. The only thing I knew was that he wasn’t on TV anymore. My first game in-person was in 1988 when my family took a bus trip to see the Mets and the … Pirates. Other than meeting an 11-year old girl who was a pretty fanatical Gary Carter fan on the bus, I don’t remember much from that trip.

So anyway, fast forward to 1996. Kid from rural Pennsylvania turns into respectable college student and heads to the big city – Pittsburgh. I was still a pretty diehard Mets fan, but after going to a few Pirates games, I started slowly rooting for the team to win…mostly because they did so little of it. I guess I did it for the same reason a lot of people cheer for MLB teams – they become familiar with the players. The only problem was that, while more fortunate fans of Central Division teams had posters of guys like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Bagwell, and Barry Larkin, I had Tony Womack and Jason Kendall. Both fine major leaguer players, mind you, but neither was someone you’d hang your hat on and call a bonafide star.

The struggles grew. I was now somewhere in between a Mets fan and a Pirates fan. But when the 2000 World Series with the Mets and Yankees came around, something surprising happened.

I wasn’t interested.

Maybe it was because I was in college. Maybe it was because I had more pressing issues such as finals, paying the rent, and parties. But after that, things just weren’t the same. I was transformed. I was a Pirates fan. And not only a fan, but I was hooked, attending about 10-12 games a season and watching almost every game on TV.

The Pirates went on to get more recognizable talent. With four straight 35+ home run seasons, Brian Giles is still the best Pirate in the past 20 years dating back to Barry Bonds. Aramis Ramirez went on to a great career and Jason Bay was Rookie of the Year and a multi-year All-Star. And then there was the new ballpark in 2001.

If it weren’t for that pesky ‘winning’ thing, I’d be fully content.

Ah, yes, the winning. Why are the Pirates one of those MLB teams that don’t actually win? Well, there are a number of reasons. Some of it could be management.  In the past, it seemed like they always got rid of star talent (some of which has worked, and some of which hasn’t). There have been the halfway-rebuilding years to the all-out rebuilding years, which we saw a couple of seasons ago. And, like any fan, I’m not sure I always agree with the decisions.

For instance, not finding a way to keep Barry Bonds was probably a mistake, regardless of what you think of his career.  He went on to win five more MVPs, after all. Trading a budding All-Star in Ramirez for something along the lines of a few pouches of Big League Chewand a 1988 Topps baseball card set maybe wasn’t a great idea, either. And I can’t say that I was on board with dumping Bay, who had become a good young power hitter, for a minor league prospect and three guys who are no longer with the team.

Then, you’ve got the “Who saw that coming?” category. The Pirates put Jose Bautista, who had done little to suggest he was a major power threat, on waivers. He had 43 home runs total in several years as a Pirate, but had 54 last year alone, leading the AL. Jason Schmidt went 44-47 in Pittsburgh, but 79-41 the rest of his career. Heck, he didn’t even wait to become a star as he went 7-1 and lowered his ERA by more than a run the rest of 2001 after he was traded.

Last, there are the high draft picks that never panned out. I give you Pittsburgh’s first-round selections since 1990:

Kurt Miller (1990), Jon Farrell (1991), Charles Peterson (1993), Mark Farris (1994), J.J. Davis (1997), Clint Johnston (1998), Bobby Bradley (1999), John Van Benschoten (2001), and Bryan Bullington (2002) all either never made it to the majors or only were there long enough for a cup of coffee. It’s hard to have success when the guys you draft don’t become even serviceable MLB players.

Chad Hermansen (1995), Kris Benson (1996), and Sean Burnett (2000) had middling careers, but certainly didn’t pan out to anything close to what a first-round pick should. Of former Pirates, only Jason Kendall (1993) went on to have a pretty solid career.

Ouch.

But things have been getting better. The drafts since 2004 have produced guys like Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Pedro Alvarez – all of whom are starting on the major league level. Jose Tabata is a capable leadoff man who was pilfered from the Yankees, and the minor league system still has several quality candidates to join the team in the next year or two. Now, more than ever in recent memory, the team is loading up young players and has a core of talent that makes you think it can compete in a year or two.

So I hope. And I root.

The fact is that things are finally looking up.  I know, I know – we’ve been saying that since 1992. But trust me.