Thursday, March 30, 2006

Welcome to the Minors

Let the witchhunt begin.

Bud Selig, in all his senile wisdom, has opened an official investigation into the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in baseball. After turning a blind eye for over a decade to major leaguers blowing up like they had allergic reactions to shellfish, Selig is trying to right his wrongs by launching a league-wide search for dopers.

I've never been a fan of Selig and the programs he's brought to baseball, there's no doubt about that. Interleague play is an abomination in my opinion, and thought it helped the Sox win their World Series in 2004, the Wild Card makes MLB just a little too much like NFL.

But I gotta say, I'm on the fence about this investigation. Depending on how this plays out over the season, I could go either way.

First off, I highly doubt this formal investigation will reveal much more than the usual hearsay and baseless accusations that we've been faced with since Steroids became a household name in the majors. Unless they plan to use different methods of testing besides urine, which has shown to be insufficient against today's designer drugs, and develop NEW methods that can detect the ever-changing cocktails of performance enhancers, they ain't gonna find shit.

They've also opened up the floor to EVERYONE who has information about players that have used. Not reliable sources, not trainers, not owners, EVERYONE. By the time their committee weeds through the hundreds of thousands of responses they're going to get, ranging from ex-mistresses to some slackjawed local that thought he saw a syringe in someone's trash can, its gonna be the year 2025. People are going to come out of the woodwork to finger these big leaguers they resent for being millionaires.

But what I'm afraid of mostly is this investigation will out so many big-name stars, the league will lose its big talent, its main draw. People love the longball, and that just may be going the way of the Dodo as more people get fingered and busted.

I'm afraid baseball may fall into a serious doldrum of fans, attendance dropping league-wide as more fans get disgusted as more members of their favorite team are booted out of the league for doping. Hell, I know how upset I'd be if I heard Manny or Big Papi were artificial.

With such a potential drop-off in fanbase, who's to say we don't get another strike year? Owners can't pay salaries if fans don't come to the stadiums. Are we on the verge of another NHL fiasco, with an entire season on the chopping block?

And who's going to bring their kids to games to watch a bunch of cheaters earn millions? With no heroes to adore, there's no kids to form the next generation of fans. With no fans, the game is in serious jeopardy, for possibly many years to come.

But there could be a good side to all this. I've always looked for the silver lining in things, and I'm not about to stop now, especially when it comes to my favorite sport.

Maybe a sudden purge in these all-star big guns will be good for the game. With these monster mashers out of the picture, these artificially-enhanced players out of the game, an influx of real talent is inevitable. We'll get to see those college kids and minor leaguers who have genuine talent, but never made it before because dopers already had their spot in the bigs.

Sure, team offense may no longer rest on the backs of a 40-dinger-a-year player, and come moreso from opponent errors and small-ball tactics, but that's what baseball started out as. That's more to the true nature of the game. Outsmart and outplay the other team, not simply outcrushtheball them.

I may be the only guy in the stands when the stars are gone. I may be the only guy in the stadium who still plunked down his hard-earned cash for a jersey with a name no one recognizes on the back. But I'll still be fan.

Maybe this latest fiasco by Selig will be exactly what everyone's expecting it to be: a disaster, a smokescreen, a sham of an investigation. Too little too late from the man who did nothing to discourage the use of illegal substances as long as the homers were flying and the fans were cheering.

But maybe this is just what baseball needs. Maybe this will finally even the playing field, giving the small teams and players alike a fighting chance to show us what they've got.

Maybe. Maybe.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Rock'em Sock'em

I've never cared much for Julian Tavarez, a journeyman relief pitcher that's older than Bud Selig himself, but he REALLY hit the bottom of the barrel for me today.

While pitching an Spring Training game (for my beloved Red Sox, nonetheless), Tavarez was covering home when Joey Gathright attempted to score. A close play at the plate resulted in a hard Gathright slide into Tavarez, one which the ugliest man in baseball must have taken offense to. Tavarez stood on Gathright's arm so he couldn't get up. Gathright pushed him off, got to his knees, and caught a vicious right hook from Tavarez! While still on his knees!

Needless to say, a bench-clearing brawl ensued, and God I hope Tavarez caught a few extra punches, got bit, hit in his jewels, something. He's only been a Red Sox for Spring Training, and I sincerely hope that's as far as his tenure with Boston lasts. I fully understand the need to stand up for yourself, but Tavarez, a known hot-head, crossed a major line when he punched Gathright.

Now, I don't have all the details behind the whole incident (though I'm sure it will be covered extensively on SportsCenter tonight), I can't imagine there's ANY good reason to haul off and sock a guy who's barely off his knees. I don't want to see a guy with an attitude like that in the majors period, much less on my favorite team.

Theo, we're good on pitching. Traded away a great young thrower last week we're so stacked.

Do we really need this troublemaker?

Okay, I just may have to NEVER fill out an NCAA Tourney bracket again. And unfortunately, its not because I'm doing so well, there's nothing left for me to conquer. Nope, just the opposite: I managed to pick a grand total of ZERO Final Four teams. Not a one. Zilch. If Red Marker Cross Out was a team, then sure, I won big. But that ain't the case.

In fact, I did so poorly, I'm offering my unique team-jinxing services to the public. That's right, I'm a fan for hire. Or, Anti-Fan as it were. No matter which team I've rooted for in this year's tourney, they've lost. Syracuse didn't make it out of the first round. BC lost a heartbreaker to 'Nova. UNC fell to this year's Cinderella, George Mason. And the team I picked to win it all, Gonzaga, was reduced to a blubbering heap at center court by UCLA.

So its time for you, Joe Fan, to put my talents to work for YOU. Highest bidder gets me to root for the team of your choice. I'm so confident they'll lose, I'm offering a money-back guarantee. Look for me on eBay soon ...

Go Lady Terps! The Maryland women edged out Utah in OT to advance to their first Final Four in 17 years. Where I'm tempted to go see them when they're here in Boston, I'm afraid that NCAA tourney jinx of mine may extend to women's hoops, too.

Plus, its women's hoops. Sorry.

Friday, March 24, 2006

My Bracket's been Shaq'ed

March Madness is in full swing, with some major upsets and unexpected outcomes rocking brackets nationwide. I think I’m back to loving this time of year again.

My bracket is dead to me now, with both of my final teams (Gonzaga and Ohio) out of the tourney. In fact, the only teams I have left are Texas, Memphis and BC. And BC hasn’t played their Sweet 16 game yet.

Seeing Duke go down was sweet, even though I didn’t think they’d make it to the Final Four anyway. They petered out at the end of the regular season, dropping their final two games to division foes UNC and Florida State. What struck me as funny is that while some experts were pointing out that Duke (or more specifically, Redick) may be running out of steam, they also had them in their Final Four picks.

Regardless, they didn’t make it. And Redick, probably one of the most loved (by Duke fans) and hated (by everyone else) ACC players in history, finishes off his collegiate career with exactly ZERO national titles. Sweet.

So who to root for since the Zags are gone? As I am prone to doing, I made another mistake in my post yesterday, claiming that the only ACC team left to root for was Duke. Beings that I now live in Boston, there’s little excuse for me overlooking BC’s run in this tournament. However, since they just joined the ACC this season, I think I deserve a pass on that goof. So, Go BC! (What’s their mascot again?)

I hope LSU mania doesn’t sweep the nation now, though. While I’m probably more excited than the next guy about their upset of Duke, I get a little annoyed by those “area affected by tragedy” rooting trends. Sure, Hurricane Katrina was devastating to New Orleans and other areas in Louisiana, but don’t let that be your reason for pulling for LSU. LSU winning the tourney won’t help the region recover from the turmoil. Let’s keep our heads on straight, please.

I hate to harp on the Barry Bonds thing (well, that’s not entirely true, its kinda fun), but he just makes it so easy sometimes.

Turns out that the suit he has filed against the authors and publishers of “Game of Shadows” is not a libel case at all. Instead, Bonds is suing because the authors used illegally obtained grand jury transcripts.

How does this move not simply crush the Bonds PR movement? For years now, Bonds has vehemently denied using any time of performance-enhancing drug. Now this book comes out that not only fingers him as a steroid user, but outlines his sources, his doping regimen, every drug he ever took, even fellow ballplayers he introduced to the stuff.

So, to maintain his innocence, wouldn’t you expect him to sue for libel, claiming the book is erroneous and portrays him in a negative manner that would negatively, severely negatively, impact his career? Wouldn’t you?

But he didn’t. Bonds took a different approach, suing because the authors used information that was supposed to be privileged. So he’s not claiming the book is wrong, just complaining about how they got their information. That’s shooting yourself in the foot.

Reminds me of those Law & Order reruns I always watch. Police bust into a suspect’s house and find the murder weapon that would easily lead to a conviction. However, clever lawyers deduce an illegal search and seizure makes that murder weapon inadmissible in court, and the criminal walks, usually without ever seeing a jury. Does that make him any less guilty in anyone’s eye, though? Of course not.

And that’s what Bonds is trying to do now, wiggle his steroid-bloated body through that same loophole. Sure, I may be guilty, but you can’t prove it because you’re not supposed to have those documents. See the hypocrisy? The irony? The whateverthefuck that is?

Man, my head hurts.

Parting thought: Am I the only one who didn’t know Dwight Gooden was Gary Sheffield’s uncle? Learn something new every day …

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Wide World of Sports

Random thoughts day.

As a football team, what’s the next best step after you dump the most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history? Yep, you sign the most clutch field-goal kicker in NFL history. Seems the Colts have locked up Vinatieri to a 5-year deal that made him the highest-paid kicker in NFL history. Lot of history in this one transaction, eh? Considering Vanderjagt missed a field goal in the closing seconds of the AFC Championship game last year, I can see why Clutch would be an important word to the Colts for next season.

I’m curious to see how Vinatieri is going to hold up in Indy, though. Here’s a guy that spent his whole career kicking field goals in the brutal weather of New England. Snow, wind, rain, you name it, he’s kicked in it. Now he’s hopping over to the weather-less dome of the Colts? I bet he shanks some very makeable attempts early in the season.

Vanderjagt, meanwhile, has picked up with the Cowboys, one of the more fitting signings this off-season in my opinion. Well, personality-wise, at least. Over the years, the Cowboys have been chock-full of players with attitudes (see Irvin, Michael and Lett, Leon), so why not pick up a kicker who likes to bash his own players? And with a team like the Cowboys around him, he’ll have plenty of ammunition to last all season long.

More ‘roids, please! The big names have started to drop out of that already-infamous Barry Bonds steroid book, but they’re nothing surprising. The latest player to get sucked into the scandal, or sucked back into the scandal as it were, is Yankee right-fielder Gary Sheffield. Not that this is news, since Gary admitted to taking the Cream and Clear already, claiming he didn’t know they were steroids.

Am I the only person who’s offended by such accusations by these big MLB stars? You mean to tell me you took an oral medication when you weren’t 100% sure of its contents? These guys live and die by the performance of their bodies, you can’t tell me they would take such a risk.

And flaxseed oil? This is something that’s supposed to help prevent heart disease and cancer. Didn’t Sheffield and Bonds question why a physical trainer would be giving this to them? Is heart disease and cancer a hot-stove issue around the clubhouse that they wouldn’t question this?

Now rumors are flying that Bonds is going to sue over this book. The specific basis for the suit hasn’t been made public, but it seems they are trying to seize all the profits from sales of the book. Not halt the publication of the book, not demand a retraction for defamation of character, but seize the profits.

Guess Barry isn’t expecting to collect a paycheck from the Giants this year, eh?

The Sweet 16 tips off tonight, and I couldn’t be less interested! I only picked eight of the 16 correctly, only two of my Final Four teams remain, and my pick of OSU in the finals went sour last weekend. I have more red marks on my brackets than a heroin addict’s arm.

At this point, I’m just watching in hopes some underdogs go far and the big seeds fall miserably (hello Duke!). I’m still hoping Gonzaga takes the dance, no matter what some expert columnists say about rooting for your conference when your team is eliminated. Since I’m an ACC guy (frickin’ Terps lost in the FIRST ROUND of the NIT at HOME to MANHATTAN. I will now poke my eye with a stick.), and UNC lost to phenom George Mason, that would mean I’d have to root for Duke to win it all. Duke.

Um, yeah, I don’t think so. Go Zags.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bostonopoly anyone?

Are the Patriots being run by the same group of heartless businessmen as the Red Sox?

I don't mean to knock ownership of two of the four professional sports teams in Boston at once, but that’s the only explanation I can come up with after the news of Adam Vinatieri’s departure from a Patriots team that won three Super Bowls in four years. This is a city that places him (well, his foot, at least) on the highest of pedestals. How does Vinatieri leave the Patriots? How does he turn his back on a city that idolizes him for being THE clutch performer in the NFL?

Maybe my question should be, how do the Patriots not bend over backwards to KEEP him?

Its gotta be the Sox. After the recent shafting of Bronson Arroyo, I’ve come to terms with the fact that Red Sox management is a PURE business, guided only by their bottom line. If there was any loyalty factor behind their decisions, either to the players or the fans that adore them, it has certainly been tossed to the wayside. It truly has become a case of Root for the Laundry, not the Player.

Besides Arroyo, look at the list of stars the Sox have either let go or run out of town: Fisk. Clemens. Vaughn. Lowe. Martinez. Damon. Hell, the entire 2004 World Series team at this point. Some did it with grace, but most of ‘em looked over their shoulders with disgust at how the front office handled their contract negotiations.

Don’t get me wrong, here, I’m not trying to defend a group over million-dollar babies that didn’t get the few extra bucks for that bigger yacht they’ve had their eyes on. Some of those guys (coughDAMONcough) were just in it for the payday anyway. But it’s a trend that you can’t ignore.

And now it seems that same principle of management has seeped into the upper ranks of the Patriots. Over the past few years, some high-profile players have disappeared from the New England roster, most notably Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Drew Bledsoe, and this year so far, Willie McGinest and Adam Vinatieri, with Troy Brown yet unsigned. I’m not even a Pats fan, and am still disgusted by this.

The Pats seemed to do a great job of keeping talent on the team, especially the fan favorites. Hell, they even signed BC legend Flutie as a backup for a while, even letting him try the first drop-kick extra-point in the NFL since 1941, just for shits and giggles.

So why the shift in ownership mentality? Why are the good guys suddenly scooting off to rival cities for bigger contracts? Is the Red Sox model of management that appealing?

I'm stumped. All I can say is, don't get too attached to that Tom Brady jersey.

Sometimes I just don’t get our justice system. Tank Carter, brother of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Tyrone Carter, had an additional 4.5 years tacked on to a 6-month prison sentence recently. Tank was supposed to report to prison on January 6, but blew off the date in order to head to Detroit to watch his brother play in the Superbowl.

Okay, obligatory citizenship statement: Sure, he should have reported as instructed, and the additional time was his own fault. He even admitted he’d do it all over again given the chance, but we’ll see how he feels after spending 5 years in jail.

But let’s break this down. First of all, the offense he was reporting for was driving with a revoked license. Not exactly a serial killer or pedophile on the loose here, just a bad driver. There may be more charges behind the stories that are in the news, but if they were that serious, it would probably be more than just 6 months to begin with.

Secondly, the guy was REPORTING to prison. The state left it up to HIM to show up for his jail time, meaning they thought he was as much a threat as the grocery bagger at your local supermarket. This guy obviously isn’t dangerous or they wouldn’t have trusted him to pop into jail on time.

So why was his jail time increased by 900%? What point are they trying to prove? Is driving without a license THAT big a deal in Pompano Beach, or is this judge just trying to get his name on the map?

Again, I’m not saying that he shouldn’t pay a price for blowing off jail for the Superbowl, but I don’t think he should have to pay THAT hefty a price for it.

Besides, the guy’s name is Tank. He should get a little leniency for that alone.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bouncing Around Baseball

Just some quick thoughts for today:

Japan has claimed the first-ever World Baseball Classic title, beating Cuba 10-7 last night. What started out as a fledgling tournament struggling to gain the interest of both fans and players alike grew into a worldwide sensation of amazing brotherhood, national pride and baseball. After seeing how popular this tournament became over the past few weeks, I bet there won’t be such reluctance on the part of MLB players to participate next time it rolls around.

I would have to call the inaugural season of the WBC a rousing success, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s looking forward to the next incantation four years from now. In a world divided by politics, religion, beliefs, and anything else people decide to disagree about on a daily basis, its nice to see something bring nationalities together in celebration. Even nicer that its baseball for a change.

Japan had a rough road to the top, overcoming some bad calls against them when playing Team USA, surviving elimination when Mexico demoralized that same Team USA, and benefiting from the WBC’s funky tiebreaker math to make the final round. They played like champions against a surprisingly tough Cuba squad, and came out on top.

And it couldn’t have happened to a better bunch of players. Not to harp on Team USA, but I doubt the likes any of their MLB stars would hold a WBC trophy in such high regard as Team Japan. Even Ichiro, now a seasoned MLB vet, claims this was the greatest thrill in his life. They were playing for national pride, and revel in every minute of their victory.

So Congratulations, Japan, you earned it.

Alfonso Soriano has decided he’d rather sit out the season than take a stab at playing left field for the year. Considering the struggles most infielders-turn-outfielders have faced in recent years (see Jones, Chipper and Knoblauch, Chuck), he might have a legitimate gripe over being asked to make the change.

However, his refusal to even take the field in the new spot for a Spring Training game today could land him on the National’s Disqualified list – and keep his $10-million-a-year salary out of his pocket.

Its hard to know who to blame in this situation. Soriano, for being so stubborn and childish as to leave left field empty at the start of an exhibition game? Or the Nationals GM, who traded for the All-Star second baseman when they already had one in Jose Vidro? No matter the outcome of this standoff, someone’s going to come out a loser here.

But if I were Soriano, I’d grab my mitt and start shagging some fly balls in left. Play the position for the 8-month-long season. Get the exposure of playing in the Nation’s Capital, where the love of baseball was reborn last year. And come off your one-year contract with more leverage for a big contract than ever.

Johnny Damon truly is an idiot. Its amazing to me how some players just can’t learn when to keep their mouths shut. This time he’s sounding off against the Red Sox over the Bronson Arroyo trade, ripping Sox brass for their misguided philosophy on players.

"They have their plans, and they have their computers, and they believe that's right," Damon said. "Unfortunately, computers don't judge a person's heart.”

Pretty funny to hear talk about a person’s Heart from someone who sold their Soul.

I'm kind of an idiot, too. In my writeup of the Arroyo trade yesterday, I somehow neglected to mention what was probably Bronson's finest moment in his Red Sox career: beaning A-Rod to start The Brawl. Granted, it was more A-Rod's mouthing off to Tek (dumb dumb dumb!) that started the fraccas, but if it wasn't for Arroyo coming inside to the Yankees' 3rd baseman, the Sox may not have turned the corner they did that day and go on to win the Series.

So again, Cheers to you, Bronson. We'll miss ya.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Farewell to Arms (and a Leg)

I’m as happy as the next Sox fan to have Theo Epstein, who helped bring the World Series trophy to Boston for the first time in 86 years, back in the leading role as GM of the team.

But today, for perhaps the first time since the Garciaparra trade, I’m questioning Mr. Epstein’s decision and am saddened by the news of his latest acquisition. And even more saddened by the price that acquisition carries.

Sox management, which always seems to tiptoe the line between Genius and Goat, perceived it’s best interests to lie in the camp of Cincinnati Reds part-time right fielder Wily Mo Pena. Besides bringing a cool nickname to the Sox, this overweight light-hitting Dominican has little upside. He’s setting more records for strikeouts than stolen bases, and a lifetime average under his 250lb weight class is hardly reason to race out for his jersey.

Regardless, the deal was made. Even though scouting reports hail Wily Mo as a speedster with a cannon arm, he’ll be platooning in right field with fan favorite Trot Nixon. Unless the Sox are planning on phasing out the injury-plagued Nixon, how much value can Pena bring over the likes of, say, Tony Graffanino or Gabe Kapler?

So who’s on their way out with this trade? Which prospect did the Sox part ways with to make room for our part-time player? Who was deemed less valuable than a platooning right fielder?

Bronson Arroyo.

A king of versatility, the master of humility, the beanpole with the gravity-defying leg kick. A kid on the rise, a sponge surrounded by masters of their game, limitless future ahead. A solid lock for 12-15 wins a season, if not more as his career progresses. A consistent pitcher, his awful outings were few and far between, with losing efforts usually plagued by horrific defense behind him. Just a few old vets away from being staff Ace.


Haven’t the Sox learned about their Pirates acquisitions yet? Didn’t they remember the lesson taught by their other pitching prospect from Pittsburgh that became a city sensation over the course of an amazing career? Mr. Tim Wakefield, please stand up and say hello.

Wakefield was a Pirates throw-away back in 1993, after only two years with the club. No one had faith in knuckleballers back then, their erratic money-pitch bringing just as much pain as joy, especially to a player who “developed” one after learning they were about to be cut as regular fielder.

But the Sox took him on anyway. And they stuck by him through some rough times. And were rewarded with some great ones.

Timmy did it all in Boston. He bounced around between the starting rotation, to numerous bullpen assignments, even a closing role for a while. He sacrifices himself for the team, telling manager Francona to put him in during that 19-8 ALCS Game 3 romp against the Yankees, just so the team could save its pitchers for the rest of the series.

Now why couldn’t Arroyo, who also came to Boston via Pittsburgh, benefit from the success that Wakefield brought to our city? They’re following the same career path: the aforementioned Pittsburgh connection, they have both seen some rough times throughout their careers, and both even took a hometown discount to stay in the city that reveres them so.

In his short time here, Arroyo has become as much an icon as some of the seasoned veterans he shares the field with. His definitive high-straight-leg kick, insistence on coming inside to even to the biggest and meanest of players, the A-Rod Slappy debacle in the playoffs, even a crazy white-boy cornrow/dreadlock hairstyle that ranks in the top 5 in recent years. He’s known. He’s loved. He’s the future of Boston.

Or, WAS the future. While no official statement has been released by the Sox brass, one can only deduce that Arroyo was sent packing due to the overstocked pitching rotation. With starters Schilling, Wakefield, Clement, Beckett, Wells and Paplebon geared up for the 2006 season, Arroyo was the odd man out.

More specifically, he was RUN out by Wells. After whining for a trade all off-season, Wells recanted his request after all trade attempts came up empty. Suddenly Wells enjoys Boston’s atmosphere and team, and wants to stay on board. Sure.

Wells is a master at public relations. It may not seem like it the way he runs his mouth, calls out managers and higher-ups, and claims he is intoxicated while pitching from time to time. But that’s precisely the reason he’s so good at PR: he HAS to be. He gets himself into so much trouble with that filterless gullet of his, he needs all the savvy and political wordspeak to bail himself out. So excuse me if I don’t take his at his word when he suddenly changes his mind and decides to stay in Boston. I’m sure the fact that we couldn’t GIVE him away to a west-coast team had nothing to do with his change of heart.

THIS is the reason the Sox are now shy one great young pitcher. This is why Arroyo won’t be taking the hill for Boston every fifth day, bringing in 15+ wins for us in upcoming seasons. This is why we’ve mortgaged our future on Wily Mo “Part-time” Pena.

So long Arroyo, and thanks for everything. Next time you bring that leg kick to Boston, I hope you cram it up Theo’s ass.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye

Its official: Team USA is out of the World Baseball Classic.

After a less-than-impressive showing throughout the tournament (I still think that 17-1 drubbing of South Africa was a disgrace), America’s collection of superstars was ousted in a 2-1 nailbiter in Anaheim last night. Heavy hitters were shut down, and even the timeless Rocket gave up 6 hits in just over 4 innings. Probably not the script he hoped for in what might be his last game ever.

But I say, good for Team Mexico! With just a few MLB players on their roster, this team wasn’t given much of a chance throughout the tourney. Even their advancement to the second round was a surprise to many. And now they’ve managed to topple a giant, eliminating one of the Big Three in the tournament.

Sure didn’t seem like that fact was lost on anyone at Angel Stadium, either. Thousands of face-painted fans cheered long after the game was over, even though Mexico themselves didn’t advance to the semis with the win (that funny math came into play again, sending Japan to San Diego instead).

Maybe it was retribution for the last World Cup: the US team ousted Mexico in that tournament, a game where Mexico was heavily favored. It was close to a public outcry the next day, how could the USA beat Mexico at its own sport like that.

Well, touche’ Mexico. Today is your day.

Day two of the NCAA tournament, and I’m still giddy. Missed five from all of yesterday’s games (16), not too bad. Syracuse really stuck it to me, falling to a 12-seed for the second year in a row. I had them in the Sweet 16, dammit.

Oh, and Iona over LSU, a 13-4 upset? That’s just greedy. I deserve that one.

My 11-6 upsets aren’t panning out so good, either. I blew the Oklahoma pick, and let loyalty to a former home lead me to pick San Diego State over Indiana. Bad move. Now my remaining two 11-6 upset picks are looking pretty shaky: George Mason over Michigan State, and Southern Illinois over West Virginia.

Michigan State is always a tough team in the tourney, and I’m not sure how much experience GM has in the big dance. I think I thought I was picking George Washington with that one. Yeah, that’s my excuse. I HAD to go with the Salukis, they’re always good for a shocking run or two in these tourneys, but my buddy, who’s much more well versed in hoops than I, picked West Virginia as his dark horse to go all the way. As a 6-seed, that’s tough to do, but since I picked Southern Illinois, his odds just improved.

Tipoff just after Noon today. Clock is tickin’ …

Thursday, March 16, 2006

States I Hate

Who the hell is Montana and when did they learn to play basketball out there? That’s what on my mind right now. I’m also extremely curious (which rhymes with furious) as to why #2 Tennessee is having so much trouble with Winthrop. Winthrop! A 15-seed! I can’t remember the last time I saw an upset that big, and it might just do a number on my bracket on day 1!

BC gave myself, and probably everyone else in the nation, one helluva scare earlier. Two OTs to beat Pacific? Yikes. Some experts picked them in the Final Four; you KNOW those guys are sweating right now. But the way things are going, they’re gonna take on Montana next, friggin’ Montana, so they might be able to at least get to the Sweet 16.

The only game I’ve officially lost so far was Oklahoma-UW Milwaukee, an 11-6 seed matchup. Now, I know that every year there’s at least ONE good 11-6 upset, so I made sure to pick one. Well, actually, I picked 3 this year. And the one I didn’t pick? Yeah, Oklahoma-UW Milwaukee.

God I hate March Madness.

No, scratch that. I just hate Montana and Oklahoma. And Tennessee is dangerously close to making the list, too.

Moving off the court, a bomb scare hit San Diego’s Cox Arena before the Alabama-Marquette game earlier. Seems a bomb-sniffing dog got a whiff of something interesting, and they cleared out the arena while they took a closer look. Thing is, though, the dog sniffed something inside of a HOT DOG CART. He didn’t find himself a bomb, he found himself LUNCH. Good dog!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Annual Productivity Dropoff Alert

God, I love March Madness.

It’s no matter that my beloved Terrapins squad will be battling away in the lowly NIT, which they better do well in as a Number One seed, fer Christ’s sake, I’m still going to be closely following the annual tradition of the NCAA Tourney. The stories are just too great not to. Will Morrison and his ‘stache lead the Zags to a National Championship? Will J.J. rain his threes all tourney long for Duke? Who’s going to be the big Cinderella this year? I can’t wait. Can’t wait!

Personally, since the Terps aren’t around this year, I’m pulling for the Zags. They’re a damn good team. I like Morrison and his defiance of conventional facial hair standards by sporting the Porn Stache. And dammit if he didn’t have better stats this year that the hated J.J.!

So bring on the brackets. Mine is adorned on my cubicle wall, waiting for the inevitable barrage of red ink as I mark off my incorrect picks (yeah, I suck at brackets, no denying it). Bring on the tiny internet window in the upper corner of my computer screen scrolling up-to-the-minute scores. Bring on the yelps and grimaces of games won and lost at the last second, upsets avoided, and giants toppled.

Bring. It. On.

Two big-name NFL receivers were handed their walking papers today, Keyshawn Johnson of the Cowboys, and Terrell Owens of the Eagles. I couldn’t be happier that these teams are standing up to overpaid egomaniac superstars. I love that both of these loudmouthed crybabies got shut down for half a season before being given their walking papers. Let’s just hope that this trend continues on, it just might lead to lower payrolls and less attitude around professional sports.

Hell, maybe we’ll get REALLY lucky and the Giants will follow suit with Barry … but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Did anyone see that ridiculous home run Ortiz hit in the WBC game against Cuba? Not just a home run, not just a monster shot, this ball left the entire STADIUM. Crushed.

Now the debate has sprung up about showboating: Ortiz flipped his bat and jawed at the Cuba catcher before beginning his home run trot, and some say it was unsportsmanlike. I’m sorry, people. If I ever hit a ball out of any stadium, no matter how many homers I have up to that point, I’m showboating. He deserves it. And the fans love it. So deal.

Damon has tendonitis in his shoulder. Let me say that again: Damon has tendonitis in his shoulder. I can barely type that my hands are shaking so much with joy.

Not that I revel in other’s misery, I swear. It just a dream come true! Damon defects to the Yankees for a payday, cuts his trademark mange, and all of a sudden, he comes down with a debilitating shoulder ailment. Sampson Prophecy is coming to pass already, its perfect!

I’m sure it’ll be kind of hard to tell if his shoulder is bothering him in games or not, since he really hasn’t had much of an arm his whole career, but just think: now its WORSE! I give him until the All-Star break before he’s running the ball back to the pitcher like Smalls from The Sandlot. I can hear Torre already, "Yer killin' me, Damon, yer killin' me ..."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Fashion Cents

Okay, I’m having as close to a “girl moment” as I’m capable of having.

I don’t know what to wear!

I don’t mean what shirt matches my pants or how to accessorize or anything like that. I’m talking about jerseys.

With today’s professional sports being the Big Business that they are, it’s a rare commodity when a star player sticks with one team long enough to warrant throwing down $200-plus for his jersey.

Though I’ve been considering making such an investment lately, I’ve never actually purchased a jersey myself. As a child, I had a replica Boston road jersey that I wore until it evaporated (or I outgrew it, whichever came first). And just two years ago, one of the best Christmas presents ever: Authentic Red Sox Home Jersey, with my favorite number 18 on the back. Added bonus that the number belonged to Johnny Damon, a fan favorite of the 2004 World Series champs. Even had the World Series patch on the arm. It was beautiful.

Now, that beautiful, expensive, pristine jersey hangs all but forgotten in my closet, its eternal purgatory since Judas went to the Dark Side and signed with the Yankees. The only way that thing is seeing the light of day on my back is if the Sox reassign number 18 to a new player. Then I’ll remove the 2004 World Series patch and once again sport the jersey around Fenway, proudly supporting whoever the new No. 18 may be.

But what if that day never comes? What if 18 never steps foot on the field this year? Next? Year after that? I’m sure they’re not going to retire Damon’s digits after only four years of service, but the wounds from his betrayal of the city that idolized Him and His Idiocy are yet too raw to so quickly place his number back in circulation.

So what to do? I considered a jersey from another sport, perhaps my favorite NFL squad, and Super Bowl Champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ah, how I love that Antwaan Randle El! He’s quick, he’s versatile, he’s classy, he’s …

A friggin’ Redskin.

One of the few NFL jerseys I’d consider wearing, and the guy splits before their Super Bowl victory has even cooled off. I guess I should thank him for pulling the trigger so fast and not leaving me with Randle El in Black and Gold when he’s playing for the Red and White next season. But now what? Bettis is another great choice, but again, he’s not coming back next season. And I’m just too small a guy to wear Roethlisberger on my back. That name would stretch from elbow to elbow on me.

I’m too indifferent towards the NBA and NHL, and can’t bring myself to spend a few hundred bucks on a jersey of a player I have no idea about. I mean, this is a big investment here, and I’m not about to piss it away without knowing I’ve picked a winner.

So its back to baseball and the Sox. Can’t get Schilling, despite his World Series heroics, he still doesn’t feel like a Red Sox yet. Varitek has that silly little “C” on his chest. And I’d be surprised if Manny is sporting our jersey by the end of the season. So that brings me to …

Wakefield. Number 49. He’s perfect. My pops and I have followed his career since he came up with the Pirates in 1992. A timeless knuckleballer. An unselfish player, willing to take on any role the team may need him for. Hell, he just signed a deal last year that will keep him in a Sox uniform for as long as he wants.

My wish list has been filled out. I'm done. Its final.

Timmy’s the man.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Boo-S-A! Boo-S-A!

Is it just me, or is Team USA starting to look like a bunch of bullies? I had fears of such going into the WBC, with a team loaded with MLB All Stars, four of which are members of the Yankees. Too many inflated salaries and egos on one team are not a good thing (as the Yankees can attest for the past four years).

Pounding a South Africa team into submission with a mercy-rule win was just plain cruel. There isn’t one solitary player on the South African team with major league experience; one was concerned he’d fail mandatory drug testing due to his acne medication. These aren’t exactly seasoned professionals, yet Team USA didn’t pull a single starter during the 17-1 romp.

And yesterday against Japan, a disputed call in the 8th inning turned the tide in Team USA’s favor. On what appeared to be a routine sac fly that scored a run for Japan, the USA flexed its influential muscle and got the call overturned; it was ruled the runner at third left early, and was called out to end the inning. In the bottom of the ninth, A-Rod knocked in the winning run with a little squibbler that just glanced off the second baseman’s glove. The same second baseman, mind you, that was called out for leaving third base too early.

We should be embarrassed for Team USA, because they obviously don’t care about the image they’re portraying so far. My beer-league softball team could probably beat that South Africa squad on a good day, yet they felt the need to redeem their embarrassing loss to Canada by pummeling a bunch of South African teenagers. And USA’s manager protesting the tag-up by convincing the home plate umpire to overrule the initial call of Safe made by the second base ump was just a tad bit more than sketchy. Do you think for one second that same call would have been made in Japan's favor if the roles were reversed? Yeah, me either.

I’m almost rooting against the USA squad at this point. Any victory beyond today will be tainted with the classlessness they’ve displayed in what should be a tournament of pure competition between countries that love the game of baseball. Instead, we’ve managed to turn it into another shameful reminder of American greed and political influence. With the United States as a nation coming across as bullies of the world, I suppose its only appropriate that our Team USA continue the image.

The United States of America: strongarming nations both on and off the field.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Dying Happy

As much as I love the game of Baseball, I’ve always been on the fence regarding cheesy promotional gimmicks found at most minor-league ballparks across the US. I sorta understand the need for them since interest in minor-league teams isn’t the best, especially those teams with a professional squad right down the road. It definitely helps draw in greater revenue to keep things running, and dammit, minor league games can be a lot of fun to watch.

But those promotions they have always seem to be geared towards grade school children, hardly ever the adults who actually appreciate the game itself. This usually results in millions of hyperactive screaming brats climbing over seats, kicking the back of my chair, and generally annoying the everloving crap out of me (if my fiancĂ©e reads this, I promise I’ll love our kids no matter what, really).

But one minor league team out of Illinois has nailed it. Their promotions include some amazing concession stand offerings, including bacon-covered hot dogs, and cheese-filled brats.

This time, however, they’ve outdone themselves. Hell, they’ve outdone EVERYONE.

I present to you the greatest concession treat in the history of, well, history: a hamburger patty topped with cheddar cheese and two strips of meaty bacon. Doesn’t sound like much, right?

Try sandwiching that concoction between two Krispy Kreme glazed donuts.

Excuse me while I drool.

That’s right, a giant bundle of artery-clogging goodness packed into one hand-held package. Beef, pork, cheese, and Krispy Kreme. I’m not sure how many food groups that is, but it sure covers the tasty ones. This just might be the best combination of salt and sweet since trail mix with M&Ms was invented.

I imagine the team will have to beef up its EMT presence in the stadium to compensate for the increase in heart attacks that sure to happen. I mean, we’re talking the Midwest here. People out there have nothing better to do than wolf down three or four donut burgers over the course of a game, health risks be damned. I just hope we catch the live television coverage of the first fat old man to wake up after being resuscitated and continue to chow down on his prize.

Anyway, I gotta run. I think Southwest is running a special on flights to Illinois, and its almost dinnertime.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Oh Canada! indeed

Just a few thoughts about the WBC so far …

• The USA lost to Canada yesterday, 8-6. The game was an 8-0 blowout at one point, but thanks mostly in part to a Jason Varitek grand slam, USA made a game of it. In fact, Chase Utley almost gave the US a one-run lead in the 8th with a huge blast with two on and two out. However, Red Sox prospect Adam Stern made a leaping grab at the wall, not quite robbing a home run, but definitely saving a few runs. Now the USA has its backs to the wall, with its hopes for advancing to Round 2 partly relying on the outcome of the Mexico-Canada game today. I’m horrible at math, so won’t even begin to try to explain that one.

• Wait, did I just say the USA lost to Canada?

• The WBC seems to be a huge success so far, with thousands of crazed nationalities gathering to root for their countries. Haven’t seen that many painted faces in the stands since the last World Cup.

• Do the Canucks even know HOW to play baseball? I thought the whole country was covered in ice? What gives?

• Big Papi could run for President (or King or Dictator or whatever kind of government they have there) of the Dominican Republic and win in a landslide right now. Two MONSTER shots in the opening game en route to an 11-5 romp of Venezuela.

• If Canada doesn’t beat Mexico today and the USA is eliminated from the WBC, I just might vomit.

• According to ESPN’s website, the Dominican Republic has a Representative Democracy form of government. So I guess that would make their leader the President. So what’s the over/under on number of “Big Papi for President” posters at today’s DR-Italy game? I’m going with 5 televised, 58 in the stadium.

• Man, I really hate the Yankees. Their fearless leader Steinbrenner, an outspoken opponent of the WBC, took it upon himself to apologize to their Spring Training fans for the absence of Yankee stars due to the WBC. The sign hung outside their Florida stadium makes it clear the WBC is not supported amongst the organization despite several star players’ involvement, including Yankee legends Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams. Way to support your stars, Georgie.

• But there is a bright side to this story. The sign hung outside the stadium had a spelling mistake. Of a big word. Of the Team Name. The Yankess. Isn’t karma great?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Barry and his Junk

Um, excuse me, Mr. Bonds? Yeah, your fly is down. Not only that, I think you forgot to wear your skivvies today. Yeah, your junk is flappin’ in the wind, on display for everyone to see.

And it’ll be hard for anyone to ignore it at this point. I mean, there’s going to be an entire book published about your junk. A complete expose’ that cites documents, sources, hell, even interviews with your mistress. Haven’t you learned not to wave your junk around in front of your mistress? Always ends badly.

I think you’re sunk this time, Barry. It’ll take a PR miracle to rebound from the amount of coverage your junk is gonna get over this. Every intimate detail of your business is going to be laid out in nice, neat orderly courtroom quality. And that’s what that book basically is going to be, your courtroom. Judge, jury and executioner, all wrapped up into a 300-page hardbound bestseller.

Sure, it probably isn’t fair, Barry. Having people who you probably never even met before decide your career, your fate, your very legacy. Yeah, that sucks. It’s a crappy way to end up, horde of media attention before being embarrassingly swept under the rug.

You could have avoided it, though. You could have come clean about your use, your problem, your addiction. You could have had the best, sneakiest, most suave PR people in the world spin this in just the right way to make you out to be the victim here, the one who’s suffering through a terrible affliction. Hell, you could have even just straight up apologized, admitted a mistake, and cleaned up. Could have.

But didn’t.

Nope, you took the other option: strict diet of pure denial. Keep on being your surly self, blame the media, deny deny deny. For years that’s been your game. How’s that working out for you these days, Barry?

Now your junk is going to be plastered all over the news. Newspapers, radio, television, internet, its going to be everywhere.

You got greedy, Barry. You already had game. You were already heading for the Hall, even before you got to the Giants. Five tool player, five tools more than most guys have. But you got greedy. Had to measure up to the big guys, and cheated to get there.

Well congrats, Barry. You’re definitely being talked about by everyone now.

Well, at least your junk is.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Original Minnesota Thief

Kirby Puckett, 1960-2006

Today the world of baseball is one member shy of its ranks of the greatest players of all time.

Before center fielder Torii Hunter became the face of the Twins with his miraculous wall-climbing catches, stunning speed and ear-to-ear grin, there was Kirby. The original captain of the outfield turf, Puckett spent an entire career patrolling the vast expanse of the Metrodome, robbing hard-working batters of well-deserved two-baggers. I can still picture him in mid-leap at the plastic outfield wall, seemingly paused for a moment at his apex as he waits for the ball to gently plunk into his mitt.

Puckett was one of those players I consider myself lucky to have seen play during his prime. I’ll never forget his performance during the 1991 World Series, one of the absolute best that I’ve ever seen, against the Atlanta Braves. Seven game series, couple extra-inning matchups, Jack Morris pitching 10 innings in the finale. And there was Puckett, making outstanding grabs in the outfield, and forcing a Game 7 witih his 11th inning home run to win Game 6.

These are memories that can’t be turned off like a television. When I’m too old and senile to see the TV or understand what’s going on around me, I’ll be able to replay moments like those in my feeble mind over and over. The never-ending highlight reel of the greats of my time. And Kirby Puckett is as deserving a member as anyone out there.

It was a hard day for me when I heard Puckett was being forced to retire due to lost vision in his right eye. I shook my fist at the baseball gods for prematurely ending a wonderful career of such a classy ballplayer. I felt cheated, robbed of some good years of watching some amazing catches, powerful swing, bald head, and infectious smile.

And today, the baseball world has once again been robbed of the great pleasure of company from a great man.

We’ll miss ya, Kirby.