Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Globalization of America's Past Time...

What has been USA’s favorite sporting past time for the last Century, is quickly becoming prevalent in our World’s prime time.  The American pastoral game of baseball, born in the fields beyond New York City, (some citing  it originated in Massachusetts as early as 1791, takes on a new angle to the New York-Boston rivalry) is quickly evolving in to a global sensation spanning to the Far East, Central and South America, and spurt growth through Europe. USA can no longer claim dominance in baseball. Countries the size of an individual State, such as Japan, Korea, Dominican Republic, and Cuba take precedence of late on the World Baseball Stage.  Baseball has been seen internationally for almost 100 years, making exhibition and official appearances in the Summer Olympics since 1904. You would think USA would dominate, considering it was born in the original 13 States of our Union; yet, it’s a tiny country just beyond the shores of South Beach in Miami, Florida that has practically perfected our game, Cuba. There’s another Island power taking prominence in USA’s game due West of Hawaii, Japan

Every player talented enough to don a uniform in Major League Baseball has three goals in their career: Longevity, Prosperity, and a being a member of a World Series Champion team. Fifty years ago, these three desires were captured by young American boys living in Anytown,USA from shore to shining shore. That dream has grown beyond our prairies and ocean edges white with foam. The dream of becoming a World Series Champion lives in little boys in countries boat rides and plane trips abroad. The American dream has a new life through playing our American past time, baseball. When The Olympic committee decided to remove baseball from international competition, there was a void felt. Luckily, (love him or hate him) the Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner, Bud Selig, felt that void personally(well, maybe a financial opportunity, as well).  The World Baseball Classic was created.  In 2005, the World Baseball Classic had its inaugural tournament, with Japan taking the Championship. Every four years, major leaguers have now added another goal to their list, going off and playing for the Country either themselves, parents, or family originated. USA is no longer the best in its past time correlated with hot dogs and apple pie. In the two World Baseball Classic Championships played in 2005 and 2009, Japan took top honors, beating out Cuba and South Korea, respectively. The United States placed 4th in 2009 when Venezuela beat them in the consolation game.

What truly is significant about the World Baseball Classic (WBC)? How does it measure up related to other World Championships? If you ask any seasoned beat writer or journalist who’s followed baseball since the age of discovering relevance (usually occurs around 10 years), the World Baseball Classic is as insignificant as Spring Training statistics. For once, I am going to side with Bud Selig, an aging and unpopular Major League Baseball commissioner.  There are decisions in an Icon’s body of work where at present day, it seems frivolous… Yet, when we peer back in time, it actually will reflect as a poignant moment. I believe creating the World Baseball Classic and seeing it through its infancy will be well worth it as we peer back 20 years from now. Being a baseball fan, I’m excited to see America’s game grow in popularity world wide.  What’s more patriotic knowing other countries around the planet not only enjoy learning and playing America’s game, they strive to be as superior. I cannot think of a more prideful moment than welcoming a globalization of baseball to challenge American players to display democracy and rise up to greatness. Truly, it’s a sense of accomplishment knowing players from around the World want to compete with the best Major League baseball has to offer.  The reflection of MLB has become a melting pot. Some of the most significant players taking the fields across our land are from Japan, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Korea, and Cuba. After successful and positive performances from such teams as Italy and Netherlands in this year’s WBC, we just might be adding European players to the roster. The Semi Finals, and Finals will be taking place in my back yard at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California.  I look forward to cheering on the teams playing a game my Grandfather and Daddy taught me when I was 5 years old.  Let’s welcome the World, let the umpire dust off home plate, and “Play Ball”!

If you missed viewing Canada trouncing Mexico, or Netherlands shocking Cuba in 2013 World Baseball Classic Regional games, Len Berman shared two perfect reflections and synapse of significance the WBC has with players and their fans:

 “World Peace

Ah, the lofty ideals of sport. Bringing the world together to foster love and understanding. Right. What was more shocking, that Canada trounced Mexico 10-3, or that the two teams staged an all-out war on the field. A "real" baseball fight. Punches thrown, a bottle hurled by a fan in Phoenix hit one of Canada's coaches. It's a good thing the U.S. exists as a buffer state between these two warring nations. As for international sportsmanship, who's kidding whom? The whole idea of the World Baseball Classic is to "grow the game," ka-ching. So what if some nasty stuff gets in the way. It may even increase viewership for the Mexico/Canada rematch whenever that might be.

Honk if You Love Baseball

You can't miss the Dutch at the Olympics. Their fans wear orange shirts, make lots of noise and go nuts for rowing and speed skating. Those sports may take a back seat one day to honkbal. That's what they call baseball, a sport that the Netherlands hasn't really succeeded at. Their best Olympic finish in six tries was 5th. But yesterday, thanks to a game winning sacrifice fly they beat a real baseball country, Cuba, in the World Baseball Classic to advance to the semis. Or as the official tweeted  "Nederland verslaat in thriller Cuba en plaatst zich voor halve finales WBC!" "Thriller" works in both languages. The Dutch don't have a phrase for "walk-off sacrifice fly." The closest they come is "weglopen opofferingsslag," which must roll off the tongue nicely for the Dutch Vin Scully.”

Keep up with World Baseball Classic news!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

February Fodder

Ahhhhh! Here we are, approaching Spring! The shortest month on the calendar has flown by! Although many NFL and NCAA Division I Football fans would disagree, February is filled with a variety of activity… The tail-end month of Winter marks the beginning of planting Season. As we plant bulbs and seeds for an aromatic and colorful Spring, there’s actually quite a bit of action taking place above the surface.

February is underrated in the bustling events of Sports and competition.  Pitchers, Catchers, oh heck! The whole team reports to begin the Major League Baseball Season! The Gladiators we make  fools of ourselves dancing “Gangnam Style” in the stands in baseball fields across the Nation, migrate for preseason preparation to our Sunshine and Snowbird destinations, Arizona and Florida. February marks the mid-season for NBA and NHL.

As the overused adage goes for fans of our Pastoral American past time, our hopes and expectations are revived! No where else are the expectation and dreams bigger than in the Bay Area in Northern California, where AL West Pennant winners Oakland Athletics, as well as returning World Series Champions, San Francisco Giants vie to repeat in 2013. There is no easy task for either team separated by a bridge spanning between these two cities. No team in the National league has appeared in back-to-back World Series since the Cincinnati Reds in 1974 and 1975. The Oakland Athletics have a target on their back, with the California Angels pumping up their offense adding Josh Hamilton to their outfield, creating a New Millennium version of the “Bash Brothers”, joining  Angels 1st baseman Albert Pujols. Many questions continue to loom in each dugout. Can Jed Lowry be an everyday producing infielder? Will Okajima be an effective closer with Balfour out? Will Cespedes deliver on his promise of being the 40/40 man in the outfield? Is Anderson a 20 game winning Ace? On the flip side, can Sergio Romo be an every day closer? Or will San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy continue to run closer duties by committee? Will Tim Lincecum bounce back after tailspinning off his usual secure performances on the mound? Lincecum’s velocity has significantly dropped off, where he will need to learn how to use his pitches effectively with location versus in past Seasons, he easily whipped the ball by opposing batters. Is Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford ready to step up their production? Will Hunter Pence become the leading RBI man in the clubhouse? Can Barry Zito sustain his amazing performance in 2013,that turned all of Giants Fans around to give him MVP praise in the 2012 post season outings?  All these questions will be answered in April.

Aside from baseball, there’s a plethora of sports action taking place across our diverse landscape. Let’s take a tour of all the happenings in our sports world in February:

The 49ers losing for the first time in a Super Bowl appearance seamed to place a curse among Bay Area professional teams competing to gain position in their respective leagues. The San Jose Sharks, and Golden State Warriors consecutively lost 7 games, and 6 games respectively in a row, before climbing back in to the “Win” column.  Both teams were off to an electric almost unfathomable start right out of the gates, with Golden State Warriors having the best road record in the first 30 games of the NBA Season, and the San Jose Sharks going 6-0 (only 2nd to the Chicago Blackhawks, on best starts in a NHL Season) before being handed their first loss. Post Season play off questions loom large for both franchises. Will Golden State Warriors be able to hang on to secure a spot in Western Conference playoffs? So many unknowns contesting this inquiry pop up in every fans’ mind. The Golden State Warriors traded away Monte Ellis for a “Big Man” answer, to improve Warriors’ Post up and defensive woes, acquiring Andrew “Big Banana” Bogut. Yet, Bogut has not truly been a factor in the turnaround Season the Warriors are having so far in 2012-2013. Andres Beadrins, although nothing close to near the promise he displayed three years ago consistently marking up double doubles in scoring and rebounds, has been giving Golden State a lift in boards on both ends of the floor, and blocks.  

The 10 games Bogut participated have been a definite mixed bag. Right now, the Golden State warriors Post Season quest lie in the hands of the back court and perimeter shooting success of Stephan Curry and Kyle Thompson.  When Steph Curry and Kyle Thompson are hitting 44% and 53% shooting from the arc, there’s no reason to doubt they will be the team ending up with more points at the  end of 4th quarter buzzer. Yet, when it becomes 27% and 37% nightmare, the Warriors know they are in a heap of trouble, as well as seeing a loss, usually by 10 points, or more.  It seems an identifying factor of the Golden State Warriors live and die by the 3 ball.  The Warriors also seem to have an identity crisis on their hands.  The team that shows up on the floor with Andrew Bogut, drastically varies from the quick agile small line up when Bogut is out.  NBA is headed in to the last 20 games of their regular Season, and if Golden State Warriors want to KEEP their position in a playoff spot, as well as potential opportunity to survive the first round, Coach Mark Jackson, and the core components need to work together in creating an absolute identity moving forward for Golden State Warriors.  


Its Nascar Season! Once again America's premier racing circuit commenced their 2013 Nationwide and Sprint Cup Season with their Premier Championship race, the 55th running of Daytona 500! The week leading in to kicking off the Nascar Season, all fans and media outlets were all a buzz with the hottest and sleekest stock race car model to hit the oval, the new Gen Six bodies for Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota (take a peak). Danica Patrick not only made a splash with current love interest fellow Rookie driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr, she was the first woman in Nascar history to snag the Pole Position in Qualifying! It's definitely a dream campaign for her main sponsor "Go Daddy", with the words every blood pumping redneck has enjoyed uttering during Daytona Race Week, "Danica.... Is on the Pole!"... Not only was this a dream scenario for the "Go Daddy" driver and her owner Tony Stewart Racing, it has been a dream bump in Nascar ratings. 30% more viewers watched Danica finish 8th, be the first woman to lead a Nascar race under a green flag (versus caution laps), and primarily stay in the top 5 during the 200 laps. Danica’s performance in the Daytona 500 was so historic, her name is now linked with future Sprint Cup race promotions along with Jimmy Johnson's (the winner at Daytona) surge and quest for a 6th Driver Championship.  The casual fan may roll their eyes, not realizing the significance of this achievement means for Nascar. Racing is one of the few sporting events known where men and women compete on equal playing fields (the other is equestrian). Although there are ( I'm sure) drivers and fans alike that have mixed reactions to Danica's surge in the Nascar racing platform, its been nothing but positive for added exposure and padding everyone's wallet involved with Sprint Cup Nascar Racing.

Te'O of the Tape...

The National NFL Combine took place in Indianapolis Lucas Arena late February, and once again, there was the "Manti Te'O" side show I personally felt was unwarranted. I disagree with NFL Network analysts regarding an inflated draft value of Senior Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te'O.  Between Steve "The Mooch" Mariucci, and Rich Eisen, there seems to be more than one person with admiration of Te'O's supposed "Talent" and "Skills"... I'm not convinced. Quite honestly, if I were a GM or NFL coach, not only would I not draft him in the 1st round, I am not sure I would waste a draft pick on the Linebacker from Notre Dame. Aside from the fiasco of a significant lapse of judgement (or ignorance), as well as suspect maturity, Manti's talent, size, and speed he would potentially bring to the NFL field is questionable. Out of 26 Linebackers who competed at the National Combine, Manti Te'O was 20th in the 40 yard sprint, clocking in at 4.82 seconds. I would think LB coaches are looking for sub 4.7 times. He didn’t even participate in the bench press exercise, which the NFL utilizes to display power and potential explosiveness. His size is average, 6'1" and 240 pounds. The foot work and drills performed on field with LB coaches were okay, nothing particularly stood out. On top of disappointing results from #5 of Notre Dame lore, is a glaring game tape of his performance in the 2012-2013 BCS Championship game, where he was constantly two steps behind and had a front row view of Alabama's running backs running the ball in to the "Fighting Irish" End Zone all.... game.... long....

In my humble opinion, Notre Dame shouldn't have the top tier power ranking it currently possesses in NCAA Division I Football. Thier strength of schedule does not hold a candle to the likes of such conferences as Big 10, SEC, Big 12, or even some teams in PAC 12. Notre Dame did not win the game against Stanford last year. Stanford scored to win in OT, and the last call was royally botched. Pitt had Notre Dame on the ropes all game long, leading at one time by 20+ points. I'm still scratching my head on how Pitt allowed Notre Dame back in to the game, as if a slide of palms took place at half time in the locker room. Truly, I'm not sure what algorithm BCS uses specifically for Notre Dame; there is no way it's the same used for any other NCAA Division I team. If you view Notre Dame as an overrated program, then one can understand the subpar numbers displayed by Manti Te'O in the Combine, and in the BCS National Championship game versus Alabama. I understand how tackles and sacks statistics can become inflated when your competition is Boston College, Navy, Pitt, a rebuilding Michigan and Michigan State squads. I'm going to call it like I see it... I personally feel he is going to be the next bust... Remember Steve Emtman from the National Champions UW Huskies? Bust!  Remember the hyped up Brian Bosworth from National Champions Oklahoma Sooners? Bust! I believe Te'O is headed down this same path... Instead of risking a precious draft pick on a questionable aggregate in hopes of improving any NFL Defense, I would instead, invite Manti Te'O to try out for my team, and see if he can step up and put the "Big Boy" pads on and truly compete with the brightest, fastest, and most powerful we enjoy watching on any given Sunday in the NFL.   

The first woman to compete at a regional Combine may have flopped, there were two other female phenoms making the spotlight!

A dynamo cheerleader has a half court trick shot that left the Harlem Globetrotters slack jawed:

University Baylor Bears Phenom Center, Brittney Griner lit it up scoring 50 points versus Kansas State, a Big 12 Record! :