Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Courtesy examiner.com

Tis the season sports fans to be making your Christmas lists.  Fill it with all the things that would make you jollier than Ole Saint Nick himself. 

I'm not any different than anyone else in the world in having a Christmas wish list.  The only real difference between me and you is I won't be sitting on Santa's lap to give him my ultimate Christmas sports wishes. 

My list isn't a long one but it can be seen as a very involved one. 

I don't rank them in any sort of order as they are all equally important and special to me as a sports fan.  I just know I want them really, really, really bad. 

Wish List Item #1.


This Saturday, December 22nd the Maui Invitational Champion Illinois Fighting Illini will be taking on their toughest opponent to date in the Missouri Tigers.  This match-up is pitting two ranked teams and will really test these newly charged Illini to show what they are made of.

There has been quite a bit of chatter back and forth regarding the Illini's current record and legitimacy of their status in the AP top ten.  They are currently sitting at #10.  I am realistic in having watched them this season to know what they are capable of but they still seem to need to prove it to everyone out there the Illini are for real.

They went out and won the Maui invitational, they went to one of the toughest places to get a "W" in Gonzaga's Kennel, and have played their way to 12-0 and sitting with an opportunity to make a real national statement with a win against a very good Missouri team.

The past three Christmases have been a little less cheery around my household as the Tigers have come away with victories in the annual contest.  I liked it a great deal better when Illinois was winning year in and year out.  9 straight times to be exact.  What memories!

If the Illini can continue this current attitude of proving nay sayer's wrong and keep the trifectas flowing like the Bush Beer fans will be pouring in the stands then I like Illinois chances. 

The game will most likely be close but hopefully Brandon Paul will use a little of Frosty's magic and get me and every other Illini fan a nice Christmas gift this year and Thumpity Thump Thump those Missouri Tigers!

Wish List Item #2


The start to this season couldn't have gone better for Illini coach John Groce.  His style of play is very appealing to potential recruits and it is paying off in the short term as he has landed players from not only the state of Illinois but on the East Coast as well.  He is showing his worth on the recruiting trail and looks good long term. 

He just recently added his first player from the class of 2014 in Champaign's own Michael Finke.  He is a great addition to the type of team Groce is trying to build.  He is a perfect example of  a player who is getting better as the years go on and it shows by the offers he was getting from other Big Ten Schools.

I am so glad he accepted the offer from Illinois as Wisconsin was looking at luring him to Madison.  He is the ideal type of player that Bo Ryan would have used to kill us every time out.  So kudos to the coaching staff on keeping an extremely talented local product home and seeing the value in his ability.  I also am glad to have him on board as he would have probably been another Brian Cardinal catastrophe and we probably wouldn't have beat him in 9 tries either.

The reason I added the recruiting to my wish list because there are some real heavy targets on the Illini radar who would look very good in Orange and Blue.  I realize the Illini lost out on Jabari Parker but that was without having Groce on campus for only a few short months. 

I like the strides he has made though in that amount of time.  I want to see him with a full court press of sorts and having his guys on campus and using full-time work in targeting a prospect and sealing the deal.

I would like to see him continue to recruit and build a quality relationship with Jahlil Okafor (22).  Groce has shown ability to recruit Chicago as he landed the Simeon duo of Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate.  Jahlil has been quoted by ESPN as saying, "I love the new coach," he said. "I talk to Kendrick and Jaylon and they haven't said anything but positive things. I'm really looking at Illinois. I like them."

Hearing that gets your Orange Krush juices flowing.  He is on my Christmas List and John Groces as well as every other elite program out there.  He is 7 feet tall and 265 lbs of true athleticism. 

He also wants to play with his good friend and point guard Tyus Jones who just happens to be the #1 ranked player in the junior class.  Not to say it is possible but stranger things have happened. 

By the way, I would love to see their Reindeer games going up and down the court!  One can wish right?

Wish List Item #3


I have to switch gears a bit with my current list.  It still revolves around basketball but it goes up in competition level by wanting the best for my beloved Chicago Bulls.  They have arguably the leagues best coach (Coach Thibs) and arguably one of the best players in Derrick Rose.  When he was healthy.

This is what I want for my Derrick Rose stocking stuffer.  I want him to recover and have that same exact explosiveness and sheer killer instinct that made him the leagues youngest MVP.  He is a difference maker and single handily made the Bulls the leagues best team.  They had the pieces, with Derrick, to contend for leagues best record and make a run at the NBA Finals. 

They need a healthy Derrick in order for that to even be possible again.  I feel confident in the doctors and rehab professionals that he will regain his former form and dominate. 

The knee injuries of the past are just that ancient.  Players like the Chicago Bears Gale Sayers ended their careers with knee injuries and were never given another chance to shine.  If only the technology was there then who know what he could have done.  My point is that you see what players in all sports are able to do after suffering horrific knee injuries. 

Anyone watched a Minnesota Vikings football game this season.  Adrian Peterson destroyed his knee last season and now is running like the Bionic Man and flirting with setting an all-time rushing record for a season. 

This makes me very optimistic for Derrick to return and have his same ability.  Are you listening Santa?

Wish List Item #4


With the Christmas season also comes Christmas greed.  Not only do I want Derrick to come back 100% healthy but I want the Bulls to pull the trigger on a potential blockbuster trade.  They need to give the fans some Love.

And by Love, I mean, Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He is a tremendous talent.  The All-Star forward recently was quoted by Yahoo Sports about his current situation and he didn't sound all that happy in Minnesota or with management.  He said, "I don't know who labels people stars, but even [T'wolves owner] Glen Taylor said: I don't think Kevin Love is a star, because he hasn't led us to the playoffs. I mean, it's not like I had much support out there." 

This logic is absurd to think this guy isn't a star.  That same philosophy on not leading a team the playoffs would have been similar to Kevin Garnett.  He led the team to the playoffs but  had to get out of the frigid North Pole too as he knew the road to success was cold and grey. 

The Bulls need to put together a scenario that would work financially under league contractual rules and let them grab this Great White Hope.

They could send Luol Deng as a significant piece or Joakim Noah as the main cog in the trade.  I really don't care just put something together and put Kevin Love under the United Centers Christmas Tree.  What ever you give up to get him will hurt initially but he and Derrick Rose are so young you can add pieces as the years go on and build a championship caliber team. 

This is what you have to do to win in the NBA these days.  You put teams together that have multiple stars and pray to the Christmas Star it works out.

Wish List Item #5


Last but certainly not least I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  I will be taking a break until after the holidays to celebrate Christmas with my wife and kids.  I am passionate about sports and the teams I root for.  But I am over the moon passionate and filled with love when it comes to my family. 

There have been some really tragic events happen this year, most recently the horrific occurrence in Newtown, CT. 

My heart goes out to all those who lost loved ones in this tragedy.  I wish you peace and love.   

So when you get up in the morning kiss your wife or husband and hug and squeeze your kids tight.  Then look in the mirror and ask yourself what can I do today make the world a better place for tomorrow.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!





Sunday, December 9, 2012

Johnny Football

courtesy bostonherald.com

The college football regular season has finally come to a close and it has been an interesting season with some very huge surprises. 

The number one team in the nation, right now, is Notre Dame.  12-0 and hearkening back memories of 1988 and showing everyone that defense ultimately wins championships.  Their success has been driven by pressure defense and no one represented this better than their team and emotional leader Manti Te'o.

What a season he and the Irish had.  On a usual year he would be the overwhelming story and could have been the first defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy.

This, though, has not been a typical season.

This season was highlighted by a redshirt freshman quarterback from Texas A&M named Johnny Manziel. 

A.K.A.  Johnny Football. 

The season's "best player" was crowned as the Heisman Trophy winner Saturday evening and became the first freshman to be named to such an honor.  This is the first of what could be a plethora of collegiate awards for this very talented young man.

During his speech he thanked all the right people and even cracked a few jokes to his grandparents.  He was very personable and seemed mature beyond his years.  The very qualities he used to out gain every other player in the SEC, arguably the countries toughest conference.

This was his first year starting as a quarterback in college.  This was Texas A&M's first go around in the murderer's row of the SEC.  This was the first season for Coach Sumlin in a new conference.

It was a season of questions.  And Johnny Football had all the answers.

He is not the biggest quarterback to grace a backfield.  He just over six feet tall and listed at 200 pounds.  He reminds me a lot of Doug Flutie, a fellow Heisman winner.   What he lacks in stature he makes up for in heart.  The firey kid never gives up.   

He came into this season with something to prove.  He had to prove to himself he could play at the highest level.  He had to prove to his teammates he was able to be a leader at such a young age.  He had to prove to the rest of the SEC that A&M football is going to be heard from right out of the gate.

He was able to do just that.

This season he gained over 4500 yards of total offense and broke, current Carolina Panther QB, Cam Newton's record for which he used as his basis for winning the Heisman trophy just two years ago.

His combination of a powerfully accurate arm and elusive legs made him treat defenses like children.  Even though he looks like a child himself.  The age and experience of this young man doesn't matter in today's game.  Players are taking the reigns of programs and having great success like never before.

You have seen this, obviously, with Johnny Football in college and also this season in the NFL.  Quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, RGIII, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick are poised, confident, and ready to take your heart and show it to your face.

They are the new breed.  The New World Order, if you will.

Johnny Football is only a freshman and was just awarded the most prestigious award in college football.  The scary thought is he has potentially three more years to show the world what he has to offer.

Only Ohio State's Archie Griffin, left, has won the Heisman Trophy twice.  Who knows if there is room on the mantle for another one or two or three for good ol' Johnny Football.  

If he can produce stats and wins similar to his signature moment this year against Alabama the possibilities are endless.  The consensus of college football experts felt Alabama was close to invincible and he slayed that dragon.  You better get used to this young man and his nickname because you are going to be hearing it alot for the next few years.

You thought people were enamored and or sick of hearing about Tim Tebow.  This kid could surpass him by leaps and bounds.

If he is able to continue Texas A&M's rise in the SEC and if he is able to produce a national championship for the Aggies he will become a Texas State Icon.

This kid from Kerrville, Texas is on a path to potentially be considered one of the greatest college football players of all time.  This is the road he is on after winning an award like the Heisman at such an early age.

Hopefully he remains grounded and keeps his head straight.  If he can keep his eye on the prize we could be witnessing a very special time in college athletics.  He may very well be on the verge of dominating the sport and adding to his legacy.


There is some High School kid out there reading all of Johnny Football's press clippings and is just dying to show the world what he can do. 

And that is the beauty of sports.  And the beauty of the age of sport we live in today.

Just when you think who have the best player out there on the field.  There is another player stepping up to the challenge.  

There is always someone coming up just itching for an opportunity to knock the king off the mountain.

Who knows?

It just might be you!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Maui Wowie

John Groce
AP Photo/Eugene Tanner

Well Illini fans, John Groce and his boys from Champaign-Urbana gave everyone something to be thankful for this Holiday season. 

An Illini men's basketball team that puts a great product on the court.  And boy did they ever deliver!

In what turned out to be a tremendous Hawaiian vacation for these Illini ballers it has also given credence to the hiring of John Groce as head basketball coach.

The Illini, lead by Maui Invitational Tournament MVP Brandon Paul (pictured right), they went out to prove something to everyone that the basketball culture in Orange Krush country is going to be different. 

They started the week with a heart stopping win against Hawaii that D.J. Richardson saved with a three pointer in the corner at the buzzer in overtime.  They were down in that game by 16 and fought back never giving up and showing great toughness and grit. 

That win and in that fashion almost seemed to jump start their run going forward in Maui. 

They just blew doors off of the Univeristy of Spoiled Children (USC) with deft shooting and attacking defense.  They really never knew what hit them. 

The were then given a gift in playing the upset minded hosts, Chaminade, who took out a very young Texas squad the night before.  This was again no match for this changed Illini team as they again never trailed going away. 

The win earned them a chance at a championship and to get it would have to battle one of the best coached teams in the country.  Not to mention beat one of John Groce's best friends in Butler's Brad Stevens. 

The up tempo offense style and ball hawking defense smothered the majority of the Bulldogs and again the Illini with a balanced scoring attack never trailed and were crowned champion.

I am very proud to be an Illini fan today and will tell you I think the Illini have great things to come under John Groce.  Having been a season ticket holder with Illini men's basketball for many years I have seen the Illini in many systems and coaching styles. 

After watching this tournament run I have to believe prospective recruits are going to want to play in this system.  He lets his players play and if you are open to shoot without consequence.  They play in a normal rhythm and don't have that voice in the back of their head saying no. 

This was really the case the last few years under Bruce Weber.  His teams would hold the ball for 30 seconds of the shot clock and then scramble at times to get a decent shot off.  He would bark at them and it was not being received well by the Illini players. 

Groce is just the opposite.  He plays a controlled yet free brand of basketball.  It reminds me of when you are on the playground or in the gym playing pickup games and when you want to take a shot you do it without a feeling of being reprimanded. 

Players on this team, like Paul, Richardson, Tracy Abrams, Tyler Griffey, Joseph Bertrand, Myke Henry, all have a different look about them.  They look as if a load has been lifted from their shoulders and they can be themselves and play basketball.

There can't be enough said about a stress free feeling when you are playing a sport and wanting to do so at a high level.  These guys seem to have an extra pep in their step.  Tracy Abrams, (13), has grown leaps in one year and is a leader on this team.  I can't wait to see more from this group. 

The Illini seem tougher, more aggressive, and have the horses to run this style.

They do need to improve in several areas so I am not drinking the Kool-Aid just yet. 

Teams that live by the three also die by the three.  They will need to develop some semblance of an inside game and definitely rebound better as those shots won't fall like they were raining down in Maui all year long.  They will also need to work on driving to the basket more too to open up the outside for their great shooters. 

It will also be a change when league play begins as the Big Ten is loaded this season with quality teams top to bottom like top ranked Indiana and #4 Michigan.  It will be a heavyweight fight night in and night out during the conference season.   

I hope Brad Steven's is right when he was quoted after their loss last night as saying, "Anyone who thinks that’s a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, I would argue with that.”

It will take continued improvement and hard work and also a little luck to build on what they have started.

The foundation has been laid for what could be a very surprising and successful season in Illini land.

But as John Groce said after they were crowned Maui champions, "We’re excited. We’re not done. I think it’s a tremendous start for our basketball program. But we can still get better."

The talent is there on this team and with the tremendous inroads Groce has made with recruiting in such a small window of time the arrow is pointing skyward again.  He is selling this program and his style of play and it is paying off with a very good recruiting class as well, Rivals ranks them in at #10.  He has signed kids from Chicago like Jaylon Tate (blue) and Kendrick Nunn (orange) out of powerhouse Simeon.  He has grabbed a player out of Ohio in big man Maverick Morgan and now the East Coast with late bloomer Austin Colbert.    

He is building relationships across the country.  He wants to be a national brand.

He may not have won the popular vote when the Illini were searching for their new head basketball coach, but he has shown to this point that popular opinion can be wrong.

And in my mind I am glad they were.

Get out those sunglasses Illini fans because their future looks bright!     

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Father Knows Best

courtesty urbanpromiseusa.org

This week it was brought up that Charles "Peanut" Tillman, of the Chicago Bears, and his wife were expecting another addition to their family of a son and two daughters. 

This is a beautiful miracle that god willing happens to people all over the world every single day. 

The significance of Tillman's expectancy is that he was thinking the baby could be coming this weekend during the Chicago Bears mega tilt with the 7-1 Houston Texans.

He and his wife have decided if she were to go into labor to miss the football game and be with his her for the birth of his newest little one.

Now this wouldn't be much of a story as people miss work for the birth of there children everyday.  The problem is some people in the media think the star cornerback and potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate should play the game no matter what.

They feel with the season being only 16 games long that missing puts a burden upon the team and could jeopardize their playoff position seeding wise.  It has also been brought up that it is different in football than in basketball or baseball as they have more games and it is less likely missing one game will make that much difference.

I challenge those who feel that way in seeing how many times the baseball season has come down to 1 game separating the leader in a division from the second place team.  They really are the same in the grand scheme of things.  Tillman in this case sees a bigger picture. 
He doesn't owe anyone in society anything by being expected to play each game when it comes to the birth of their child.

You just aren't able to understand what it is like to be with your wife and family when another member of your family is just moments away from breathing air and life for the first time if you don't have children yourself.  The Sun Times spent the day with Peanut and his family, pictured right, and captured that feeling with his daughters smile.                                                   
And this doesn't count for those of your out there who call your pets your children...they aren't your children...they are animals. 

Tillman and his wife will be expecting their fourth child and each one is just as special as the last.  The difference for the Tillmans is the struggle they have gone through with their children.

His middle child, Tiana, was born with cardiomyopathy and was the recipient of a heart transplant in 2008.  Everyday he looks at this beautiful child it is a miracle.  It is this type of life altering event that shapes you as a human being.

Jackie, Tiana, and Charles courtesy giftofhopblog.org

Peanut and his wife thank the lord each and everyday the time they have with their children and know that no one is guaranteed tomorrow.  There is nothing like hearing your child laugh or say, "I love you Daddy."

That is why you live everyday like it is your last. 

That is why you miss a football game for the birth of your child. 

Now, Bears fans everywhere want him to play on Sunday and help them potentially defeat the Texans.  Hell, as a fan I want him to play Sunday.  Especially with them leading Green Bay by two games in the division race.

We all love this game with a passion and at times act like sports is the end all and be all of existence. 

Now, as a father of two kids myself, I want him to miss Sunday's game and be with his family and wife during this amazing time in their lives. 

Life brings about many ups and downs and the roller coaster goes along and what is always constant in our lives is family.

Tillman was quoted saying, "At the end of the day, (family is) all you have. This game is important to me, but after what we went through with my middle child (Tiana), to me football will always be second or third in my life. That was a great lesson learned to teach me that when I'm done playing football my family will still always be there for me."  

That IS the lesson to be learned.  Family will be there when football is over and Peanut will be sitting around the fire with his kids, grand kids, and the dog on his lap spinning yarns about his Chicago Bears experiences.

That is a wonderful thing. 

Coach Lovie Smith, his teammates, and the organizations gets it.  They have created a "family" within the team and the locker room and is shows on the field.

They lead by example and no one does it better than Lovie.

Peanut and his Chicago Bears defensive teammates need eleven strong to make themselves successful. 

Without that bond you have trouble.  Now Peanut has said he expects to be there on Sunday as his wife will be expecting on Monday.   

Tillman and his wife though are building a bond with their family and setting a foundation for their kids future that will make them successful when they grown up.

Football is fun but family is forever!


Sunday, November 4, 2012


The NFL, and Roger Goodell, has been really cracking down recently on excessive force and the intent of contact by defensive players.  This has been a very debatable topic as to what defines excessive force and are hits purposely violent or just a regular football play. 

This past week, after the Chicago Bears played the Carolina Panthers, Bears Safety Chris Conte was involved in a bang-bang play at the goal line that at the time was given a personal foul for helmet to helmet contact. 

The penalty, I felt, was questionable as he was leaning in to hit the receiver and as the receiver made a move he grazed his helmet and then fully hit his shoulder pads.  The referee felt it warranted a personal foul and resulted in Carolina gaining an automatic first down. 

The Bears were able to overcome this issue and ultimately win the game with more classic "Monster of the Midway" defense. 

The game ended.  Monday came and went. Then an email from the league office came to Chris Conte.

You are fined $21,000 for the hit he landed against the Carolina Panthers.  He originally thought it was a joke and it really is a joke.  To think this is fineable.   

To most people in society who think that is nothing for a professional football player to have a fine of this magnitude then think of it this way. 

This fine was 78% of Chris Conte's salary for the week. 

He makes $27,000 per game.  He is not Brian Urlacher, left, who makes $468,750 per game.    

Now I know what you are thinking.  Oh, well he will just make it up next week.  Right?  It shouldn't matter.  This is the man's lively hood.  I know we would all like to bring in that kind of money in a weeks time but again is shouldn't matter. 

Now think that if you were working and your company felt you made a mistake and that they would take 78% of your salary for the week.  You wouldn't want anyone, let alone your company, take money out of your pocket and take food off your table.

The NFL powers that be are working like an organized crime syndicate. 

The NFL doesn't care if you are a bit player and make the league minimum or if you are the star of the show.  They have the same fines and system for everyone.  You still gotta come up with the dough no matter what.

It is just like in Goodfellas when Tommy partners up with Paulie.  He has to come up with payments no matter what.      

Business bad?  F--- you, pay me.
Oh, you had a fire?  F--- you, pay me.
Place got hit by lightning, huh?  F--- you, pay me.

This is what if feels like for the little guy and what the NFL offices are basically telling them.

Don't play much?  F--- you, pay me.
Don't make much? F--- you, pay me.
Might go bankrupt, huh? F--- you, pay me.

It may sound far fetched but it isn't far off.  I understand wanting the game to be safe and never want to see anyone get hurt, but they are really taking the football out of football.

It is a violent game and people tune in each and every week to see their team play a barbaric sport. 

I especially feel this way for the Chicago Bears as their defense is their best offense right now.  The game today, against the Titans, was a microcosm of their season to date.  They use their ability to dominate games physically and opportunistically with creating turnovers and scoring touchdowns.

Chris Conte is a lower man on the Totem Pole as far as the Bears defense is concerned.  They rely heavily on the play of veterans Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Peanut Tillman.  These three are playing their best football and are doing it with bone crunching success.

Tillman alone today had forced four fumbles and does so with pinpoint precision when literally punching the ball away from opposing running backs and receivers, right.  He has to be physical to do his job at the highest level.  

There is a slippery slope when you start to fine players for helmet to helmet contact then what if they start fining for horse collar tackles.  Or in Peanut's case, for punching at players while trying to stripe the ball from them.

The NFL has their agenda and will ultimately have the final say in what goes within their league.  The players must adapt to the changes being made and do their best when in the heat of the moment.

I guess players will have to use the "magic bullet" theory and when they are in mid air and flying toward another player they will need to change directions and alter their movement against the laws of physics.

This is a ridiculous notion and why I feel these fines are getting out of control.  The league office needs to pump their brakes when doling out fines and really hand them out if these are done deliberately.

They also need to adjust their fining processes with the scale for which the players are committing them.  If a player makes the league minimum and is found to have violated league policy or procedure when making a hit then fine them according to their own salary.

Have a set scale that is made out in increments according to a percentage of their salary.

78% of someones salary is way too excessive and seems almost more extreme than some of the hits the players are being fined for.

An equal playing field in this process will be much better for a league that thrives on parody.

I realize this isn't going away this season but if it isn't addressed in the off season it will be a travesty.

Because if they don't do something then the little guy who makes a teams roster full may have to take another job during the season.

They just may be forced to actually go get their shinebox!

Thursday, November 1, 2012


The 2012-13 NBA season is now under way with a select few teams with the realistic chance of hoisting the championship at seasons end. 

LeBron and company being the front runners for yet another title and one step closer to his ultimate goal.

8 championships. 

The Miami Heat are primed for another great year with one more season of the Big Three gelling and creating the chemistry they need to put together a potential dynasty.  I don't like to throw around the "D" word but with the talent the Heat have and the addition of Ray Allen as a dead eye shooter off the bench for them it is looking that way. 

LeBron will be every bit his usual self and always give you his ho-hum average game of about 30 pts, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. 

LeBron, Wade, and Bosh will need to stay hungry as to not become complacent after winning last years title.  This shouldn't be a problem as their plan all along was to win multiple championships and become part of NBA history and lore.

LeBron wants to pass Michael Jordan, right, and looks like he will stop an nothing to get there.  

The way the Eastern Conference is set up this season there really shouldn't be a team they would fear in the playoffs.  

Their stiffest competition in the East will be from their arch rival Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers. 

Boston's veteran group of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will have each others back and won't let their legacy go quietly and the emergence of Rajon Rondo as their go-to player will put them in the discussion.

The Celtics have added some youth through the draft, Jared Sullinger being one, and having Ray Allen leave Boston only join the dark side will make their contests this season epic battles.

The Indiana Pacers were pesky outs in last years playoffs as they have a very balanced team with no real "name" player.  The one player who really makes them go is Danny Granger and if he can be healthy this year they should put together another fine run. 

The Heat don't have to worry about the Chicago Bulls as Derrick Rose won't be ready for any real game action any time soon after last season playoff knee injury.  The Bulls, under Coach Thibs, will again play enough stellar defense to get themselves into the playoffs. 

It is too bad the Bulls wouldn't just tank the season and hope for the draft ping pong ball gods to land in their favor, like the Spurs did the year they got Tim Duncan. 

Speaking of the Western Conference, their victims in the NBA Finals last year, the Oklahoma City Thunder just got a bit weaker after trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets.  They were able to get in return Kevin Martin, a scorer, and potential draft picks for long term gains but the short term could hurt them. 

They still have the leagues best scorer in Kevin Durant and score first point guard Russell Westbrook who are two of the best players the NBA has to offer, pictured right. 

They will still be a tough team to beat and my guess is Kevin Durant won't rest until he gets the Thunder back to the Finals to avenge their loss. 

The New ( but old) look L.A. Lakers will be an interesting team going forward this season.  The additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard will take time to get in a rhythm and figure out each of their tendencies.  It will ultimately solidify their ball handling and post play going forward.  They still have the always deadly Kobe Bryant who should have this team scoring plenty of points. 

The problem will be them giving up points.  

The Lakers are older and slower with the addition of Nash and Kobe will still Kobe but just a step too slow son a step too slow.  Their gonna run son but are they gonna go?

 Will have to see if Kobe and his new teammates will be winning any titles again.  

The San Antonio Spurs will again be well disciplined and well coached under Greg Papavich and with Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard they will be winning plenty of ball games.

They are crafty veterans and will be players again but their showing against OKC last year showed they may be on their farewell tour.  The experience of having won four NBA championships can only take you so far.  Like in Punch Out, pure athleticism and skill always proves out in the end. 

It is hard to see this season going any different unless OKC can replace Harden's contributions and if the Lakers can figure things out quicker than their predecessors when building a team this way.  Boston was able to win the title when Ray, Paul, and KG got together quickly and as it was said earlier LeBron got it done with Wade and Bosh last year after year number two. 

I definitely see a Re-Heat in Miami in 2013. 

LeBron and company had to win one in order to have two and we will see if they keep going to reach eight. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The stage is finally set for this years fall classic as the San Fransisco Giants gave the St. Louis Cardinals a dose of their own medicine and staved off elimination for the sixth consecutive time. 

The scrappy Giants will now face the power arms and bats of the Detroit Tigers this Wednesday evening.

The well rested Tigers, having just swept the inept New York Yankees, will turn to the world's most intimidating pitcher in game one, Justin Verlander.  He has been almost untouchable this postseason and seems to get better with every outing. 

He has a unique ability to get stronger as the innings and pitches mount.  It is not uncommon to see him throw a fastball in the 90's in the first inning and clock it at 100 in the 9th inning.  Verlander, right,  is pure power. 

The rotation for Detroit is set as manager Jim Leyland has stated all along he will use his regular four man rotation, with Anibal Sanchez, Matt Scherzer, and Doug Fister and then see how the series plays out if there are any tweaks. 

This is not the case with the Giants.  They will use Barry Zito in game one and then after that it is a toss up.  If Zito can build off his series turning performance like he had in the NLCS game 5 this would be a huge bonus for San Fran.   

The Giants also have gotten great outings from their other starters like Matt Cain last night and two great outings from well traveled Ryan Vogelsong.  They really though need a rebirth of sorts from the former "Freak" Tim Lincecum, pictured below.

The man lead the league in strikeouts for three consecutive years, '08, '09, '10, and has been a Cy Young award winner.  This season has been a total roller coaster and if he can get back to 80-90% of his past performance the Giants will be tough to beat.  It doesn't sit with just the starting rotation for these clubs.

Lincecum has done well in the bullpen too but we will see going forward where he ends up. 

Each teams bullpen could come down to whether or not either of these teams take the title or not. 

Detroit has struggled in the playoffs in having their games closed out.  Using the term "closer" almost seems funny as they are not closing anything but are really "gently shutting" the door on teams. 

Jose Valverde, who was once a dominate closer, has been all over the place and almost seems to be "waiting" for something to happen.  Rather than taking the stance that nothing will happen. 

He has gotten roughed up in the past rounds and Jim Leyland has stated he is still his guy but hasn't gone back to him.  Leyland has "had a Coke and a smile" since going to lefty Phil Coke to end the game.  He has been a bit shaky but has gotten the job done. 

This could be a real issue going forward if the Giants can keep games close and force Leyland to take his starters out for his relievers.
The Giants, on the other hand, have been quite stellar in the finishing of games department.  They have a very good closer in Sergio Romo, right.  He is a sort of poor man's Brian Wilson.  He has the strong arm, huge beard, and a quirkiness that makes closers unique.  He revels in the opportunity to crush a teams hopes and help his team be victorious. 

Having security in your teams ability to get outs 25, 26, and 27 make the difference between being a World Series champion and a team sitting at home admiring Erin Andrews on Fox.

The position players for both Detroit and San Fran are an interesting group as well.  The Tigers of course are anchored by Miguel Cabrera, the first Triple Crown winner since 1967 who will need to be his usual self in order for the Tigers to stay effective.  He will be protected in the line up by Prince Fielder and Delmon Young, the ALCS MVP.

A very formidable group in the heart of the Tiger line up. 

Cabrera and Fielder are a huge assets to the Tigers as they both play in the field not limiting their usual offense as the transition to National League rules and no DH.  In years past, teams have struggled to get their best hitters in the lineup without sacrificing their fielding abilities and having them in the lineup daily both hitting and fielding is a plus for Detroit.  

Delmon is able to play the field as well and shouldn't cost the Tigers anything from a defensive standpoint either.  He is definitely no David Ortiz who the Red Sox in years past dealt with his offensive prowess over his defensive liabilities.  

The Giants are led by NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval, and Buster Posey.  The first two gentlemen have carried the Giants when their backs were against the wall in these playoffs. 

This would not have been the case earlier in the year when Melky Cabrera was their best player and winning All-Star game MVP and helping the National League secure home field advantage.  This is a stupid use of the exhibition, that is for another day, but it benefits the Giants now.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to their second half of the season.

Melky was caught using PED's and bam he is gone for 50 games.  His suspension ended at the beginning of the playoffs but the team didn't want him back.

Chemistry was at an all time high and they didn't want to mess up a good thing. 

If it ain't broke don't fix it.

The actions of the Giants have been wonderful in the wake of this issue and the team almost feeds off of negativity and those who are against them.

Scutaro was demolished in the NLCS when Holliday ran him over on a force out attempt and he bounced back with 14 hits and a .500 batting average.  If he can continue this push and attitude coupled with the backing from Kung Fu Panda himself Sandoval the Giants will do well.

They need Posey to hit like the .336 hitter he was in the regular season.  He is a likely MVP of the National League and he needs to perform like it.  He has been on this stage before and so have some of his teammates.  He isn't a rookie anymore like in 2010 and it will be difficult against the power arms of Detroit.  

I think the difference maker could be lefty Brandon Belt.  He showed some flashes against the Cardinals with some shots to right center and a home run in game 7.  Might be a big contributor with the amount of righties coming at them in this series.

The ultimate winner of this game will come down to who is hot and who is not at the right times.

The Tigers have been off for a number of days and have even called in their internationnal team to keep the team fresh and not complacent.

The Giants are hot and the momentum is building with three straight wins in convincing fashion.

This group of Giants have that "it" factor that really makes a team.  It is a combination of chemistry and talent that wins championships.

They were able to win in 2010 with the same sort of team.  Manager Bruce Bochy is a master with this kind of team.

Fe Fi Fo Fum...

these Giants smell the blood of a Tigerman.

And they will eat them up in 7 games.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hey You Guys!

For the past two years the St. Louis Cardinals have been doing the unthinkable in postseason play.  They are the defending World Series champions and are once again in the thick of the playoffs with a group of guys who defy logic.

This really all started at the end of the season last year when the Cardinals caught fire and were helped by the utter collapse of the Atlanta Braves to get in the playoffs. 

It isn't how you get in the playoffs that matters it is just getting in the playoffs.  Nobody cares if you were a 100 game winner or you limped in the playoffs.  It you are in then you have a chance. 

And these Cardinals ALWAYS seem to have a chance.

This group of what seems to be a rag-tag group of guys were able to fight off elimination against Texas in Game 6 of the World Series last year.  They were down to their last strike and David Freese was able crank the game winning homer and the rest is history. 

They remind me of the Goonies, you remember that movie, this group of misfits who are kind of counted out, misunderstood, and struggling to achieve something great while going through adventure after adventure while searching for a wondrous treasure.  The treasure, though, in this case being a World Series title and they ultimately found it.

But could they do it again?  

Coming into this season, after having such success last year, they were now faced with adversity by trying to replace our generations greatest hitter in Albert Pujols.  You take away not only his offensive production but his stature on the team and city. 

So what do the Cardinals do? 

They replace him in the line up with Carlos Beltran, pictured at right, who had his best season in years!

There must be something in the water down in St. Louis because they seem to do this year in and  year out.  

They have created a culture of winning and an attitude of not giving up no matter what the circumstance.  This belief system has culminated in this seasons run to the NLCS.

They have taken advantage of the new playoff format and found themselves once again thriving.  They don't see themselves as an inferior team, considering they finished 9 games out of the division behind Cincinnati.  They see themselves as a playoff team.

Plain and simple.

They took out the Atlanta Braves in the winner-takes-all one game playoff.  Now all the Braves fans can say what they want about the infield fly fiasco but that didn't cost you the game.  The three errors made by your team cost you the game.  The infield fly issue was just icing on the cake. 

But again the Cardinals just move on. 

Survive and advance. 

Now they faced the best team in the National League, the Washington Nationals.  It was a hard fought first four games and then came game 5.  What happened on this night was almost surreal.  The Nationals hit them hard early but the Cardinals will tell you the game isn't a 4 inning sprint.  It is a 9 inning marathon with twists and turns and they will use ALL of their 27 outs. 

Once again they were finding themselves in a precarious hole and a hole most teams would have felt couldn't be climbed out of. 

Not these Cardinals.  They almost welcome the moment being down 7-5 with two outs in the top of the ninth inning and once again facing elimination. 

They feel no pressure.  I can't remember a team so relaxed in tense moments than these St. Louis Cardinals. 

So, Boom just like that they are up 9-7 after a tremendous rally and the Nationals and their fans didn't know what hit them.  It was like a right upper cut from Mike Tyson.  The knockout blow had been delivered.

They earned the right to face the San Fransisco Giants in the NLCS and the Nationals were left to wonder what the hell just happened.

Chris Carpenter, left, and Lance Berkman, both veteran guys, have been asked about their influence on the team and they both feel the players listen to them and believe what they say.  

Their egos are left at the door and everyone battles as a team.  They are all in this together.  It is refreshing to see such team unity. 

It makes a team built for the postseason because, as you can see with the Yankees, when guys aren't hitting and the fans are ruthless you need your boys in the dugout on your side.   

It doesn't just end with the position players.  The Cardinals have been getting it done with the pitching staff as well.  They obviously have their struggles in the regular season but te bullpen has been a saving grace for the Cardinals this postseason.  They have been shutting down opposing teams and this was never more evident in Game 1 against San Francisco. 

Any time a team can get excellent bullpen work it obviously increases their chances of winning.  They have put together a good group regardless if they weren't supposed to be pitchers or not.   

Their closer, Jason Motte, is a converted catcher for crying out loud.  The Cardinals look for baseball players first and then find them a position.  They have the talent in the starting rotation with a now semi-healthy Carpenter, Wainright is a stud more often than not, Lohse is a consistent winner, and then find a scrap heap pitcher and the Cardinals will make him an All-Star like Lance Lynn.

The Cardinals have the chemistry to make another deep run in the playoffs with the likes of David Freese, John Jay, Daniel Descalso, Yadier Molina, Allen Craig, Skip Schumaker, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holiday etc... 

These guys have been there and done it. 

They are Goonies.

And Goonies never say die!

Friday, October 12, 2012

No So Alex-cellent Playoffs

courtesy nydailynews.com

The other shoe finally dropped on the otherwise amazing career of Alex Rodriguez. 

Joe Girardi benched the superstar third baseman for the winner-takes-all Game 5 against the Baltimore Orioles.

This decision has been like watching a snail move.  You know it is coming it just has taken a long time to get there.

A-Rod has been completely disappointing in these playoffs with a stat sheet littered with goose eggs and strikeouts.  He is currently hitting 2 for 16 and has struck out 9 times.

9 times!                    

I DO remember him striking out 9 times! 

And so does every Yankee fan out there and especially his manager Joe Girardi.  And he has seen enough.   
A-Rod has had a stellar career and is one of the best baseball players of his generation.  He just has really never produced consistently in October like a person of his stature should. 

 If Reggie Jackson, left, is Mr. October then A-Rod is Missing October. 

And he is missing pitch after pitch after pitch in the seasons most important month. 

He has actually been playing like he is a substitute player and he is obviously not paid like one. 

See his $30 Million dollar annual salary. 

I mean, $30 Million for that kind of production?  The Yankee ownership has to be kicking themselves.  I can hear Dr. Evil saying to the Steinbrenners, "I used to think you were crazy but now I can see your nuts."

For someone to be making bank like that he should be giving his team and his fan base more from the dish than two hits and two walks this post season.

I am not saying that A-Rod hasn't ever produced before in the playoffs, as he did carry the Yankees in 2009 with 6 homers and 18 rbi, he just isn't doing it on a consistent basis. 

He seems to have a real confidence problem right now and is really struggling against right handed pitching.  It also doesn't help his case when he is one of the most scrutinized players in the league in the biggest media city in the world.  Everything he does is magnified.   

The situation isn't going to be getting any better as they will now face a Detroit Tigers pitching staff stocked with right handed power arms.

If he is getting benched against the Orioles' Jason Hammel do you really think he will be successful or playing against, Detroit's Justin Verlander, right, or Matt Scherzer, or Doug Fister?  Even if he would potentially be coming off the bench Detroit's closer is right handed.  Not a good equation for Mr. Rodriquez. 

A-Rod may very well be able to bounce back and show everyone the past series is over and a new beginning is on the horizon.  We don't know but I can't really see it changing for the better.  Not even in a fantasy world. 

When you are a player that has accomplished as much as A-Rod throughout your career you feel like it will always be easy to you.  This game comes naturally and when you start to press and try even harder you tend to do worse.  When your mind comes into your play and you think about your at-bats then your goose is cooked.

These players have an instinctual ability to perform this very difficult sport.  A-Rod, to this point, has been unable to perform and now is thinking too much. 

It didn't help his situation that he was pinch hit for in favor of Raul Ibanez in Game three.  It also didn't help A-Rod's case when Ibanez hit the game tying home run in the bottom of the 9th and then the walk off homer in the 12th to win it.

A-Rod did and said the right things after Raul's heroics, left, but you have to believe deep down it had a crushing effect on his psyche.

Ibanez' innate ability to sit in the dugout the entire game then be called upon to perform and he did just that.  He didn't think about anything other than swinging a bat at a moving ball.  

Which again brings us to Game 5.  The biggest game of the year and your manager has no confidence in you to perform the way you are being paid and he benches you in favor of Eric Chavez.  Who has been even worse than A-Rod having NO hits at all.   

The Yankees obviously didn't need either of their offenses to win Game 5 but the mental makeup of a very accomplished and proud player has been damaged.  

Is it damaged beyond repair?  We don't know until  he is called upon again in a similar situation.  

It will be interesting to see though who is penciled in Joe Girardi's lineup card for Game 1 of the ALCS as that series starts the very next day.  

Baseball players, especially A-Rod, almost need a form of sports Alzheimer's or that Men in Black mind eraser.  If something goes bad, or you make an error, or you strike out, just wipe it from your memory and play on.

This separates the men from the boys and determines who are the postseason heros from the zeros. 

This is what Alex needs to do going forward with his swing and his mind. 

Fix it and forget it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Crowning Achievement

Who's tripping down the streets of the city.
Smilin' at everybody he sees.
Who's reachin' out to capture a moment.
Everyone knows its...MIGGY!

Ok, so I altered these lyrics a bit from the 1967 summer hit, "Windy" from The Association, but it is appropriate for what is about to take place in Major League Baseball after the next two games.     

Something that hasn't happened since the summer of 1967. 

A feat so rare it has only happened 15 times in the history of baseball.  This happens less frequently than a perfect game (23 times total).   

The ever elusive Triple Crown. 

The last player to accomplish this feat was Carl "Yaz" Yazstremski of the Boston Red Sox, pictured right. 

Which brings us to 2012 and Detroit superstar Miguel "Miggy" Cabrera currently sits in the lead of all the major offensive categories after last nights game.  He has an American League leading .329 batting average, 44 home runs, and 137 rbi.

He is not only doing this against all other players in the American League, but he is doing this while putting his team in the playoffs.  He is carrying his team on his back and doing it with ease.  He has always been a very special talent all the way back to first days in the majors with the Florida Marlins. 

He is a truly an offensive dynamo at 29 years of age.  Just think about how difficult it is to lead the league in only one category, let alone, three of them.  This is why it is so rare to accomplish due to there are so many players in the league with different skill sets and abilities. 

For an example, Tony Gywnn, pictured below, was an amazing hitter and was a eight time batting champion.  He was never going to be confused with any of the power hitters in the National League during his hayday.  Which in turn made the sluggers  of his era basically shut out of any chance to challenge the Triple Crown due to Gwynn's ability to hit annually for such a high average. 

This is the rub when you are talking Triple Crown.  You have to be good at everything.  You have to be disciplined enough around the plate that you not only swing at good pitches but lay off the obviously bad ones.  It is well proven that good pitching gets out good hitting, especially in the playoffs, but through the course of a season good hitting destroys bad pitching and Miggy has been soaring in that regard this year. 

What I also like is that he does it with a smile.  He does seem to have fun each and everyday and is truly earning this $21 million salary.  I find it difficulty to justify when players are collecting that much money and then seeing if they have earned it or not. 

When you are leading the league in all offensive categories and at the same time leading your team into the playoffs it almost seems justified. 

Miguel has shown this season he is well deserving of all the accolades that come with being a potential Triple Crown winner.  He has taken his fair share of bites out of opposing pitchers best pitches.  He is also in a well debated argument for who is this years American League MVP.

On a usual year someone like Miguel puts up a season like this and it is a slam dunk runaway they are MVP.  This year is not so easy in some experts minds.  He is up against a rookie phenom named Mike Trout who has taken the American League by storm. 

He didn't start the year with his team but when called up he has played like a 10 year vet.  He is just behind Miggy in batting average and the argument experts use for Trout, left, to be considered MVP lies in the sabermetric stat W.A.R. (wins above replacement) which he currently sits at above 10.  What this means is that Trout gives his team 10 more wins above what a replacement would give.  It is a relatively new stat and can be used to compare generations. 

It is a valid argument.  Trout has the stats this year and also the steady hand in the field to make very amazing plays.  He never seems nervous out on the field.   

I just am old school when it comes to awarding MVP.  If the players team gets in the playoffs then I find more value in that than if an opposing candidates team doesn't get in.  The ultimate goal is getting in the playoffs and winning a championship.  I have stated before I am a Cubs fan and when Andre Dawson won the MVP in 1987 for a last place team it just doesn't seem right.  Good stats or not you take him away from the Cubs that year and they still are in last place.

Getting into the playoffs is huge. 

Of the two candidates only Miggy will be getting in the playoffs and Mr. Trout will be sitting at home waiting until next year. 

I am not denying the amazing season Mike Trout has had.  He will get his own award this year for Rookie-of-the-Year and it will look nice on his mantle.

But in my eyes if Miguel Cabrera wins the Triple Crown that seals the deal. 

He will be my American League MVP. 

And he will be smilin' and reachin' out to capture a moment.

Maybe a World Series moment?