Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Phils Release Jenkins, Interested in Sheffield?

The Phillies released veteran outfielder Geoff Jenkins this afternoon, and apparently are interested in signing Gary Sheffield, whom the Tigers released earlier in the day.

Many scouts reportedly say Sheffield won't be able to regularly play the outfield anymore, but the borderline hall of famer could be a tremendous addition as a right-handed bat off the bench.

Buster Olney said this afternoon on Baseball Tonight he spoke to several American League clubs who were not interested in signing the nine-time All-Star, and said Phillies' GM Ruben Amaro said the Phillies would be interested.

Because the Tigers owe Sheffield $14 million this year, the Phillies would only have to pay him $440,000.

Making this move seems like a no-brainer to me.

The Phillies could add a 499-home-run hitter to their bench, and even out a corps of hitters that leans heavily to the left.

If the Phillies have one weakness heading into this season it is they have a glut of left-handed hitters which could be vulnerable against strong left-handed pitchers.

Sheffield would give the Phils some serious right-handed pop off the bench, even at age 40. If it doesn't pan out, they would be spending virtually no money on him anyway.

Right now, the Phils' best right-handed option off the bench is 36-year-old backup catcher Chris Coste, who has hit 478 fewer home runs in his career than Sheffield has.

This move needs to happen.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dimitri Bouncing Back

Dimitri Young is set to return to the Nats' lineup today in the team's exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers. Young has been out since March 1st with a back injury.

It is not expected that Young will begin the season with the team because, as Bill Ladson on Nationals.com writes, he is not in game shape as of yet. However, his is a bat that has the potential to make a big impact of the bench in an offense that was anemic in 2008. That is, if he can remain healthy. Young, after winning the starting first baseman job last year, only played in 50 games because of complications from his diabetes.

This setback came two years after Young battled issues with alcohol and substance abuse and depression following a divorce. He was also sentenced to a year's probation stemming from a domestic violence incident. Then, after this, came Young's discovery that he had diabetes.

Still, it is a testament to Young that he has fought through all of this and continued to play at a major league level. Much was made of Josh Hamilton's resurgence to prominence after his struggle with drug addiction and deservedly so, but Young also deserves his fair share of recognition for his achievements.

I once met Dimitri Young at a spring training game in Viera, Fla., and his attitude and demeanor to fans endeared him to me. As fans do when they seek autographs from players, we called out, "Mr. Young, Mr.Young" will you sign this, will you sign that. Many players sign autographs like zombies, but Dimitri Young was engaging with fans and responded to their requests by accepting and replying, "man, call me Dimitri."

Baseball players have said before that they hustle so that the kid who only sees them play once leaves impressed with their effort. Well, this was my only run-in with Dimitri Young, and I left impressed.

By most accounts, Young is one of baseball's good guys, but it remains to be seen if his play can be as big as his personality in 2009.

Who let the (watch)dogs out

I'm abandoning the NBA and turning my blogging attention to sports media. No one is safe.

I was inspired by this story written by Kyle Weidie for the Washington affiliate of NBC. Yes, it was written 10 days ago — an eternity on the web. Whatever.

 The question Weidie poses is as follows:
But as far as Wizards beat reporters from both the Washington Post (the soon to be departing Ivan Carter, who is leaving print for television...go figure) and the Washington Times (Mike Jones), the money just wasn't there to send them romping through Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Denver.

Both scribes cite budget issues for not being on the road trip. But what's the real reason? Is it "in this economy" or "this team is crappy"?

I'm inclined to believe it's a bit of both. 

Cop out? Sure. True? Probably.  

It'd be hard to believe WaPo wouldn't send someone if the Wiz were contenders this year. And, sure enough, Washington dropped all four games on the trip.

But it's even harder to imagine that in past years one of the country's premier papers wouldn't have sent someone, regardless of the situation. It just goes to show how the flailing economy and failing newspaper industry have converged to dilute coverage.

At least these dead-tree distributors can take solace in Gilbert Arenas' return to action Saturday. Now even if the on-court product continues to stink, there might be some antics worth paying people to report.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fresh Arms

The Washington Nationals’ 2009 rotation is set. The decision to option right-handed pitcher Collin Balester to AAA Syracuse on Saturday ended the spring training competition to make the Nats’ starting rotation. This move leaves John Lannan, Scott Olsen, Daniel Cabrera, Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmerman as the team’s starters.

Manager Manny Acta was quoted in an article on the Nationals’ Web site saying that he prefers the admittedly young rotation to the mix of inexperience and veteran retreads that have become a staple of the Nationals’ inept starting pitching the last few years.

In fact, the Nationals have not had a legitimate front-line starter since their move to Washington. The closest they have come was Livan Hernandez, who became a fan favorite as much for his ability to hit home runs as for his skill in getting batters out.

Perhaps the Nationals’ bad luck in the starting pitching department is the curse of Pedro Martinez, who the organization (as the Montreal Expos) traded in 1997. Since then, Martinez has compiled a record of 139-60, was named to six All-star teams and won two Cy Young Awards. However, there is hope because Martinez is still a free agent, and one of the teams rumored to be considering the aging righty is, you guessed it, the Washington Nationals. Maybe, a signing of Martinez would reverse the curse.

Another, less superstitious, option for the transformation of the Nationals’ rotation could actually be a product of the Nats’ embarrassing play during their time in Washington. This potential savior is named Stephen Strasburg and is a 20-year-old junior right-handed starter from San Diego State University. In 2008, Strasburg was the only collegiate player to represent the United States in the Beijing Olympics. However, this is not what has the scouts abuzz and many predicting that the Nationals will pick him with the number one pick that they owe to their 59-102 record in 2008. It is his ability to light up radar guns and his immediate front-of-the-rotation potential that has him on everybody’s radar.

Here’s hoping that the Nationals improve on their 2008 record, that the curse of Pedro is reversed and that they pay the money necessary to sign Strasburg and bring his 103 mph heat to Nationals Park.

Will Pole Vault for Pants

Blogging about the economy and sports has proven really easy because lately news has been breaking daily on the subject. The hardest part has been deciding which stories to include.

Today, courtesy of an Olympic pole vaulter from France, was one of the easier decisions. It seems Romain Mesnil, a three-time Olympian, subscribes to the theory that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

After his sponsorship agreement with Nike ended, Mesnil could not find a new backer. He decided to make a video featuring himself running naked with his pole at French tourist destinations to draw some attention to his plight. Here's the video.

Mesnil blames the economy for the situation. (Maybe he couldn't afford pants?)

"It was probably for budgetary and strategic reasons. It's the crisis," he wrote on his website.

Mesnil doesn't have a new deal yet, but it's hard to believe that he won't get something out of this (Lee's dungarees maybe). Is this the wackiest athlete publicity stunt ever? Probably not, but it certainly makes the list.

Imagine Clinton Portis sprinting around the Washington monument wearing only a football helmet. On second thought, maybe Mesnil won't get a new deal, and maybe it doesn't have anything to do with the economy.

Red Sox are Crazy Deep

Recent injury problems have recently reminded me of just how deep and how good the 2009 Boston Red Sox are. John Smoltz and Mark Kotsay will both start the season on the disabled list for the Boston Red Sox, but it doesn't seem to matter. If this had happened when both players were with Atlanta, the Braves woud have been dead in the water.

But the Red Sox outfield also features J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jason Bay. Rocco Baldelli is also available for occasional play despite his mitochondrial disorder. Kotsay was a star with the Braves, but in Boston, he is a fourth outfielder at best, and depending on Baldelli's play, a fifth outfielder and backup first baseman. That is really impressive depth.

The Red Sox will open the season with Josh Beckett, to be followed in some order by Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Brad Penny, who has recently impressed. If anyone else goes down, Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson are waiting in the wings. How many teams would take that rotation from Matsuzaka on, and exchange it for their actual one? John Smoltz, who?

In the infield, besides Kotsay, Julio Lugo will serve as the backup to Jed Lowrie. The only weak spot on the whole roster is catcher. Why they didn't flip some of that depth for the heir to Jason Varitek during the offseason is a complete mystery to me. They may live to regret it during the season.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Utley, Feliz to Be Ready for Opening Day

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel announced earlier this week that second baseman Chase Utley and third baseman Pedro Feliz should both be ready for opening day.

Utley had surgery on his right hip on Nov. 24, and Feliz had back surgery a few days before that.

Utley originally was feared to be out for as much as the first two months of the regular season, but he made quicker-than-expected progress in his rehabilitation.

This is obviously very good news for the Phils.

In addition to having the best offensive second baseman in the game's production for the entire season, and Feliz's defense at the hot corner, it really just makes the Phils' entire lineup a lot deeper.

Jayson Werth likely would have been moved up to Utley's third spot in the batting order, but now Manuel can keep Werth hitting either fifth or sixth depending on whether the opposing starter is a lefthander or a righthander.

Werth and Raul Ibanez will be counted on to protect Utley and Ryan Howard.

Feliz and his 15-20 homers will fit nicely in the No. 7 hole.

This also likely means Miguel Cairo and Marcus Giles, both non-roster invitees to spring training, will not be on the opening day 25-man roster.

Suck Meter: March 28

The season may yet be a week away, but the race to the number one draft pick in 2010 is already heating up between the Orioles and the Nationals. Let's take a look at where they rank on the Suck Meter: Nationals. The Nats have been resting on their laurels so far, confident that the roster they've fielded is so hideously awful that there's nothing the O's could do to compete. A glimmer of hope came in the form of this MLB.com headline: "Martis, Zimmerman round out rotation." Sadly, however, the Nationals have not decided to add their only good position player to the pitching rotation, instead it's just another guy named Zimmerman.

The Nats' rotation is going to be John Lannan, Scott Olsen, Daniel Cabrera, Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmerman. A solid maneuver picking up the the Orioles' trash and plugging him into their No. 3 slot, but unfortunately Olsen actually has the potential to be a competent major league pitcher.

On the hitting side, the addition of Country Strong Adam Dunn to a terrible lineup means that there will be at least one legitimate baseball player in the field for DC. And despite the glaring flaws, everyone playing the field at least has tricked me into believing that they might be good at playing baseball one day.

The big news for the Nats lately has been the saga of Stephen Strasburg, the greatest baseball player who ever lived. The Nationals (naturally... nationally?) hold the first pick in the June draft but might not take Strasburg because he probably won't sign for less than a government bailout package. DC can't spend the money because... well, no reason really. They're just stingy.

Verdict: Terrible, but not otherworldly terrible. The Nationals rate as a 3.

Orioles. Now here's a team that is awfully good at being awful. The pitching rotation for the O's looks like the last few baseball cards you get in the pack. You know, after there's like a Barry Bonds and a 1985 Milwaukee Brewers commemorative card, there's five bums that you don't recognize. That's the essence of Uehara-Eaton-Penn-Hill. The "other" Japanese pitching import, two people I have literally nothing to say about, and a guy who has less control than Courtney Love at an all-you-can-smoke crack rock buffet. It's Jeremy Guthrie and pray for four days of rain.

But at least the Orioles have Hall of Famer Matt Wieters coming up to hit baseballs into stands and bring hope back to Baltimore.


In a move that surprised exactly no one, Wieters was reassigned to Triple-A Norfolk yesterday. Obviously it was due to his lack of a minor league pedigree (.355 batting average in the minors last year, minor league player of the year), bad spring (.333 batting average), and the fact that we've already got a guy.

Even though it's not unprecedented, it's still a shame to see a team putting the arbitration clock before the desire of the fans to see a baseball team that doesn't suck. For that, the Orioles are your early leaders for your I-95 Suckfest 2009 Championship.

Verdict: Overtly, disgustingly terrible. And I didn't even mention Cesar Izturis. 1.5.

Good Luck WPS..You'll Need It

You have to hand it to Women's Professional Soccer (WPS). The league, which kicks off its inaugural season tomorrow, not only has its heart in the right place, but it is working to raise its profile. (Kobe Bryant's unabashed support for Brazilian star Marta gave a big boost.) If the economic climate wasn't making major sporting entities such as the NFL and NBA sweat a little bit, it might even seem like a good idea.

It should be noted the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) lost about $100 million in three seasons before folding in 2003. With the sharp economic downturn since then, it's hard to imagine how this project got greenlighted. But the reality is there has been extensive planning for this moment almost since the minute the WUSA folded. They're keeping the tickets cheap and will hold the league's eight teams to a very well-defined $565,000 salary cap. Plus they have an exclusive television broadcast deal with Fox Sports Soccer Channel.

Today's Houston Chronicle offers an interesting take on the state of women's sports. Houston knows a thing or two about the topic. Although the city has not been represented in the WUSA or WPS, it was home to one of the most successful WNBA franchises (Houston Comets) until they folded in 2008 when a new owner could not be found.

The new league's chief operations officer was upbeat in her interview with The Chronicle, talking about the chance to create 200 jobs for talented women and urging people to wait until they see the product on the field before making judgements.

But it's not that easy. Despite all the league has going for it, it will be a minor miracle if this league can entrench itself in a sports landscape that continues to struggle. People in this country support women's soccer, maybe even more so than men's in a lot of ways. But they also seem content to save their passion for major semi-annual tournaments like the Olympics and World Cup (thanks Brandi Chastain). The evidence of the consistent support this league will need is not there. There is no reason to believe Americans will open up their wallets to support this effort.

It's a shame, but women's soccer fans need to enjoy the WPS while they have the chance. I know Kobe will.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Howard Works His Magic

I love the music they play at Orlando home games nowadays. Big, epic, sweeping music from John Williams: the catchiest themes, featuring Star Wars and Superman among others.

Howard brought his Superman tonight, getting a double-double in the first quarter, throwing down some emphatic jams against the defending champion Celtics, who continue to suffer from injury-related issues.

While Leon Powe couldn't bring powe-r to the Celts, and Garnett's minutes limited his ability to get hot, the Celtics turned on the hot mustard to bring the game within a point in the last thirty seconds. Paul Pierce tried his MVP-best, but his magic couldn't outdo the home team's. One of the final plays of the game sums this sucker up: Pierce weaves among Magic defenders, goes for a leaning shot, and gets blocked by Howard. It was this momentum swing that brought down the Big Green.

Howard finished his fantastic game with 24 points, 21 rebounds, and 4 blocks. He talked pre-game about how important this game was for his team, and he did not disappoint. He was on point the entire game, bringing energy to his team and his home crowd, especially with a sweet backwards alley-oop to finish out the half. Though he's out of the MVP race at this point between the King and his Wadeness, he's definitely be in talks for defensive MVP of the year, unless LeBron rains on that parade too.

Now, the Celtics and Magic are tied for second within the competitive Eastern Conference, and it looks like the second seed will come down to the wire like David Simon. No one can catch the calves of the Cavs, especially since no one has found an answer for LeBron and Mo "Nique" Williams, so second is the consolation prize.

Doc Rivers has said time and time again he'd rather have a seventh-seed with a healthy Garnett instead of the first-seed with an injured Garnett. I hope he's right. It looks like the Jameer Nelson-less Magic have got enough tricks up their sleeve to tie up the second spot.

Thoughts? Questions? Prayers? Bueller?

-Dave "Money" Maysmith

Hamels Should Be Ready for First Week

A positive update about Cole Hamels and his tight left elbow.

The Phillies' ace pitched 3 and 2/3 solid innings against Class A hitters Tuesday, his first game action since he left Clearwater, Fla. to get examined by the team doctor in Philadelphia a week ago Monday.

According to The Philadelphia Daily News, Hamels said he is back on track to pitch the first week of the regular season.

Pitching coach Rich Dubee hasn't officially ruled out that Hamels will be able to start opening night on April 5, but as of now Hamels is penciled in to start the fourth game of the season April 10 against Colorado.

My educated guessing leads me to believe the Phillies will then enter the regular season with a starting rotation of Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton, Hamels and Chan Ho Park/J.A. Happ in that order.

Park and Happ have emerged as the two frontrunners for the fifth spot in the rotation after as many as five pitchers were in the conversation when spring training started.

There will be more on that development in later posts.

For now I would just like to relate the Phils' pitching situation to Rob's post, and point out my amusement that the Orioles signed one-man disaster Adam Eaton, a fringe-at-best candidate for the Phils' fifth starter job at the beginning of spring.

If Eaton can't make the Orioles he should probably just give up pitching.

The I-95 Suckfest 2009

Hi. I'm Rob Gindes and my focus on this blog is going to be the eternal battle between my two favorite baseball teams, the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles, to see who's worse at being a baseball franchise.

We're going to be keeping score with the handy Suck-Meter:

This will help keep track of the performance of both teams on a scale from zero (a baseball abomination as bad as Major League III: Back to the Minors) to 10 (The 1927 New York Yankees). At the end of the season, I'll figure out the winner and the loser.

Spoiler alert: the loser is area baseball fans.

Price is not Right for Rays

According to ESPN's Jayson Stark, the Tampa Bay Rays are likely going to give David Price some more time to cook down at AAA Durham at the start of the season.

If the Phil Hughes experiment has taught me anything, it is that calling up a young pitching phenom before his command is completely settled can do nothing but bruise his confidence. As much as Price has dominated along every step of the way [including spring training and the 2008 Postseason,] the Rays feel that he still needs to learn to be more efficient. And apparently he is making strides with his changeup that could turn it into another excellent pitch to add to his sick repertoire with some more time.

There is also wisdom with trying not to increase his innings from 129 1/3 straight to the 200 threshold. The bottom line is that this guy is as close to a sure thing as you get with pitching prospects. One of the only things that could get in his way is injury, and the Rays are right to move with trepidation.

Their pitching staff returns the big three: Scott Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza. Andy Sonnanstine will be back as well. And the talented Jason Hammel or Jeff Niemann will get a shot at the fifth spot until Price reaches for the baseball. It's a good situation to be in, if you're Tampa.

Andrew Friedman continues to prove himself an outside-the-box General Manager. He knows what he is doing, and seems to operate entirely unemotionally. Kudos to the kid for having the stones to send down the presumptive pre-season AL Rookie of the Year Award. It may frustrate some folks who saw him blow J.D. Drew away last season in the playoffs, but in the long run, I am not sure that this can do anything but help Price

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Schilling Retirement the End of an Era in AL East

It's not that I don't remember Curt Schilling's greatness as Mr. Phillie. Of course I do. That nasty splitter. The hard gas. The big old wad of chewing tobacco. I was too young to appreciate his NLCS MVP award and World Series performances in 1993.

But the Curt Schilling I remember vividly was a Yankee killer and a champion late in his career. It all started with the 2001 World Series, when Randy Johnson and he teamed up to form one of the most devastating 1-2 punches in the history of postseason baseball. That final year of the Yankee dynasty had the most exciting Fall Classic I have ever seen, and resulted in a disproportionate number of victories coming in the last at-bat of the game.

Then, of course, as if Yankees fans hadn't seen enough of him, he had to move to the Boston Red Sox, where he shrugged off an 86-year championship drought and re-stratified the division. The bloody sock game (whether theatrics or not) was one of the gutsiest performances I have ever witnessed, and has to be looked at on par with Kirk Gibson's miracle home run. In 2007, he won three more playoff games with no gas left in the tank and led the Sox to another World Series.

As famous for his candid nature as for his determination on the mound, Schilling never shied from the spotlight. He addressed every issue that came up in baseball during his career. I am sure he will continue to do so on his blog, even after retirement. One day, I hope to see him in Cooperstown. He belongs there, and I think that most Yankee fans agree with me. Quoting a memorable scene between Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell from "Anchorman," we hate him, but, damn it, do we respect him. He will be remembered by the game for years to come.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Curt Schilling's Retirement

Curt Schilling announced his official retirement this morning on his blog, and I don't really know how I feel about that.
The three-time World Series champion pitched for the Phillies from 1992 until 2000, and was really the lone bright spot on some terrible Phillies teams in the late '90s.
After he was traded to Arizona for assorted spare parts shortly before the '00 trade deadline, the Phils didn't have a true ace until Cole Hamels emerged in his first full season in 2007.
In 1993, he was the ace of the staff for the best pre-2008 Phillies team of my lifetime. He won 16 games that year, pitched a five-hit shutout in Game 5 of the World Series, and sat with a towel over his head as Mitch Williams pitched the ninth inning and eventually gave up the infamous home run to Joe Carter in Game 6.
Those two games perfectly exemplify why I have always had mixed feelings about Schilling.
He was a great pitcher, and probably deserves to be in the Hall of Fame with 216 wins and 3,116 strikeouts to go with his World Series titles.
But he was personally annoying and immature for most of his career, rubbed a lot of his teammates the wrong way, and was definitely an attention hog.
His blog is unreadable, and I hope he stops writing it now that he's retiring, even though I'm sure he won't.
I did like to watch Schilling pitch, though, and loved the way he attacked the strike zone and challenged every hitter. I admired the way his repertoire evolved as he got older.
Yet I hated that he pitched for the Red Sox, and often hoped that he would lose.
So now that he's in retirement, I have serious mixed feelings.
I'm glad he won't be pitching for the Sox anymore, even though they have at least five solid starters anyway and possibly six if John Smoltz is healthy, but I'm disappointed I won't get to watch him pitch anymore. I always secretly hoped he'd pitch one more year in Philadelphia before he retired.
I'm perturbed the only time he'll be in the public eye from now on is if he is saying something annoying when it isn't his place to do so.
And I'm bitter that if he does get voted into Cooperstown in five years, he probably isn't going to choose to go in as a Phillie.
I don't really know what I'm trying to get at here, other than Schilling was a great pitcher but an obnoxious person as far I could tell.
I wish him well in retirement, and mainly I just hope he doesn't become a part of the Phils' broadcast team.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Living La Vida NFL

The annual NFL owners' meetings kick off Monday at a swanky resort in California. And when people with that much money get together to talk about a league that brings in more than $8 billion in annual revenues, the failing economy has got to be a major point of conversation.

According to many, including USA Today's Jim Corbett (who outlines the issues to be discussed in a very fan-friendly way), that's absolutely true. At the Super Bowl, Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that the league is not immune to the economic pressures facing the world. In fact, he's taking a pay cut on his scheduled $11 million salary (and he's not even giving it to Anquan Boldin).

But it's not simply an issue of rich people sitting around a table and talking about how poorly their 401k's are doing. Much of the business to be discussed is directly related to the economy. The current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is set to expire after the 2010 season. If they don't come to a new agreement before the next free agency period, there will be no salary cap for the 2010 season.

In an era where it's hard to know how much they can sell a nose-bleed seat for, how are owners going to be able to set the market for a Pro Bowl wide receiver without a salary cap.

DeMaurice Smith was just elected as Executive Director of the NFLPA after a period of instability following the passing of longtime representative Gene Upshaw. According to an NFL spokesman, the owners will discuss "preparing and planning" for a new CBA. Hopefully, that means getting all the owners (who voted 30-2 last year to opt out of the old agreement) on the same page in moving forward quickly. The time is now for owners and players to get together and make some stability on the CBA, so there is one less thing to worry about in these uncertain times.

Then there is the issue of just running franchises. It would be interesting to hear what the owners have to say to Redskins owner Dan Snyder about laying off dozens of members of his operations staff one day and then shelling out $100 million to Albert Haynesworth the next. When there is this much money involved, all the math can't really add up logically, but it's important for the league to have a united plan for moving forward.

As Goodell said, the NFL isn't immune to the economy. Let's just hope the NFL owners can realize that while kicking back in luxurious Dana Point, Calif.

The Wade-ing Game

It's only a matter of time until the season is over and the NBA's MVP is decided.

In the meantime, Dwayne Wade is going to go ahead and score a little bit.

Today, while his alma mater fell out of the NCAA race, the Marquette star brought it at the Pistons on their home court and sufficiently smacked them with some Wadeness. He dropped 39 points and 4 very notable blocks, including one special "gimme that!" block with the much taller Antonio "Shoot Some" McDyess.

The Heat were kept cool until D-Wade went into his Wade Bank and made a Wa-deposit all over the Pistons in the third quarter, dropping 14 Wadepoints (similar to Disney Dollars).

The Heat sneaked by in the end, and although they played a starless Pistons team (sans Iverson, Hamilton and Wallace), you cannot dispute Wade's great year.

While the game was a great Wade to see some Wade, it was the game's halftime clip that highlighted the man's Wadetivity.

The clip showed how a young boy, who had lost his hands and feet to a bacterial infection that nearly claimed the boy's life, was treated by a special Wade visit to his house. This visit took place the morning after Wade's emphatic 3 OT win against the Bulls, mind you. The smile on that kid's face when he saw your man Wade, and Wade's demeanor around the kid and his family, was too awesome. Could the man be any cooler? Maybe, if he were also a filmmaker. But that's the only way.

So sure, LeBron had a day against the Nets (just another 30 point, 11 rebound, and 8 assist day--boooooooring), but I'll take Wade any day of the week. I don't care much for the MVP race--LeBron will win it, unless something crazy happens and Chris Paul drops 60+ for the last games of the season--but I'm behind Wade all the way...de. I can't wait for the playoffs for him to do what he did in 2006. And WIN.

But until then, we play the Wade-ing game.

-Dave "317" Wadesmith

D.C. United

So as you may have guessed based on this blog's title, I'm going to be writing about D.C. United. I'm a pretty big soccer fan and I've had D.C. United season tickets for a few years now, so I figured they would be a good topic for me to cover. The black-and-red kick off their season today in Carson, Calif., when they take on the David Beckham-less Los Angeles Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. The beginning of the year will be big for Head Coach Tom Soehn, who came under fire during the offseason after the team, which had won the Supporters Shield (best regular season record) two years in a row, missed the play-offs entirely for the first time since 2003. With the first match of the campaign only a few hours away, I'm going to ask five burning questions about the team's player personnel.

1. Will D.C. United's youthful center backs be able to anchor the defense?

When D.C. won the Supporter's Shield two years ago, the center back pairing of Bobby Boswell and Greg Vanney was considered that strong team's weakness. Come the offseason, management traded away Boswell and Vanney and replaced them with Argentine Gonzalo Peralta and Columbian Gonzalo Martinez. Both players were more or less miserable failures, so D.C. once again revamped their defense by releasing those two players.

Enter Dejan Jakovich, a 23-year-old Canadian international who previously played for storied club Red Star Belgrade, and Greg Janicki, a 24-year-old who signed with the team at the end of last season after playing with Pittsburgh of the United Soccer League. If neither of these young players pan out, D.C. also has fourth-year veteran Devon McTavish (who started 25 games last year) and towering 6-5 rookie Anthony Peters. No matter what pairing Soehn lands on, though, he needs to make sure they are more effective than last year's defensive unit.

2. Who will be the left back?

D.C. had to trade probable starting left back Ivan Guerrero in the offseason to acquire playmaker Christian Gomez, leaving a pair of Maryland alums to fight it out for that spot. Marc Burch is in his fourth season out of the university and has been a great freekick threat off the bench for the D.C., but whether he has the defensive chops to be a regular left back remains to be seen.

Competing with him is the speedy Rodney Wallace, who D.C. selected sixth overall in the MLS SuperDraft. Look for Burch to begin the year in the starting 11, but for Wallace to take over the spot later in the summer.

3. How will Christian Gomez fit back in with the team?

The 2006 MLS MVP scored 39 goals in four season with D.C. and won an MLS Cup with the team in 2004, always giving the team energy from his attacking midfield spot. But the front office felt the need to revamp the team last offseason after the club continued to fizzle int he play-offs and traded him to Colorado.

The move made room for D.C. to sign Argentine star Marcelo Gallardo as its designated player, but Gallardo departed at the end of one injury plagued season. Gomez, meanwhile, fell out of favor in Colorado and spent much of last year on the bench. When D.C. traded back for Gomez this offseason, it was a move that was welcomed by both sides. Whether he is same player who was once MLS MVP, though, is still a mystery.

4. Will Ben Olsen be back healthy?

Olsen is, without a doubt, the heart and soul of this United team. The 31-year-old is entering his 12th season with the club, but was limited to just one game last season after having continued ankle problems throughout the season. A member of the 2006 U.S. World Cup squad, Olsen was playing the best soccer of his career before the injury.

The outside midfielder tallied seven goals and seven assists in 2007 en route to being named to the MLS First XI team, and registered his first career hat trick in a 4-2 win over the New York Red Bulls on June 10. If he is back and playing anywhere near that level, it would be a massive boost to the team.

5. Can United get continued production up front?

United boasts a frontline consisting of 2007 MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner Luciano Emilio and MLS all-time leading scorer Jaime Moreno. Those two, are 30 and 35-years-old, respectively, and coming off of somewhat disapointing seasons (they only scored 21 goals after combing for 28 the previous year).

If their scoring production continues to decline, it could another long season for United. That is, unless one of D.C.'s young, African strikers (Ange N'Silu or Francis Doe) steps up to help carry the burden.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

These are Blackistone's comrades

I couldn't resist.

No, I'm not focusing on obnoxious newspaper columnists or bizarre youtube videos (is it too late to change topics?). Nevertheless, I thought I'd pass along this video from the Los Angeles Times, which I stumbled upon over at Awful Announcing

It's Bill Plashke. It's March Madness. It's upsetting.

I pray this (or this) is not what it takes to survive in the evolving world of journalism. If so, I'll gladly try my hand at real estate.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Break Griffin

My efforts in this space will concern the NBA, future employer of Oklahoma's Blake Griffin. That is, of course, assuming the super Sooner can survive the NCAA tournament in one piece.

Draft scouts have fallen for Griffin, the consensus cream of the 2009 lottery crop. But Thursday it was Griffin who went head over heals, courtesy of Morgan State forward Ameer Ali.

I witnessed the bizarre body slam from the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., where initial confusion gave way to indignation from Sooner fans. Thankfully, Griffin was unharmed.

Credit the officials for immediately issuing Ali a rightful ejection. Clearly, this was not an incidental inversion like the DeJuan Blair v. Hasheem Thabeet tango from earlier this season.

But I can't completely blame Ali for his WWE-worthy suplex. After all, the Bears had no other answer for Griffin, who shot 11-for-12 from the field and finished with 28 points and 13 boards.

Still, for Griffin's sake, I hope no one in the association was taking notes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cole Hamels' Elbow Makes Me Nervous

Following the evolving news about Cole Hamels' sore left elbow has become very taxing this week.

First came the disconcerting news Monday that the Phillies' 25-year-old ace was leaving the Phils' spring training site in Clearwater, Fla. to have his sore arm examined by team doctor Michael Ciccotti.

Then came the slightly-more-upbeat news Tuesday that Ciccotti examined Hamels and found no structural damage in the elbow, only inflammation.

But then Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said later Tuesday that Hamels would be a long shot to start the Phils' season opener against Atlanta on April 5.

And now Hamels is saying today he is still focusing on being ready to start Opening Day, and fans "don't need to jump on the bandwagon of freaking out."

I am trying not to freak out, and in the big picture of this season, whether Hamels is ready to pitch on April 5 isn't going to make or break the season as long as he isn't out for too long.

Brett Myers started the opener last season, and everything worked out pretty well.

But the Hamels news is the latest in a string of bad omens this offseason.

Chase Utley needed surgery on his hip in November and while his recovery has been quicker than originally anticipated, it is still is not 100 percent certain he will be ready to start the season. Pedro Feliz has a bad back, and J.C. Romero got suspended for 50 games for using a banned substance.

All of these things could turn out to be much ado about nothing, but they could also be the first signs of a World Series Hangover season.

Cheap Seats

There has been a lot of talk about how the failing economy has and will impact the world of sports. It's been very negative. Major League Baseball and the National Football League cutting their workforces to save some cash, and NBA teams taking out loans to shore up their financial situations.

Those type of stories show how sports doesn't exist in a bubble independent of the rest of us. That's why I'll be blogging on sports and the economy.

But to start I want to focus on a column written by ESPN's Rick Reilly earlier this month. Using the Internet, he realized it was possible to snag tickets to 14 sporting events for under $100 total.

This was a striking contrast to conventional wisdom. All the new stadiums have been driving ticket prices through the roof. When I do get to go to a game, I'm finding cheap hot dogs outside a stadium or I probably don't eat. But Reilly set out to prove that with a little work, it's possible to turn the situation positive.

The heart of this issue is also negative. The most astute point that Reilly makes is that "Some fans with season tickets can't afford the parking, the $7 Cokes or even the razor to shave beforehand." It makes sense. For once, it isn't the rich getting richer. When it becomes much more economical for season ticket holders to stay at home and watch the game on TV, the result is $3 NBA tickets and $4.50 seats in MLB stadiums.

There are flaws with Reilly's plan, and he tries to get around them with jokes, such as packing hamburger buns and loading them up with free condiments for food. But obviously season ticket holders will encounter games that they can't or don't want to go to, and right now, the potential buyers hold the upperhand.

It's still possible to get $5 upper deck game day seats at Nationals Park (which also lowered prices for about 14,000 other seats for its second season). That's like getting a Cy Young season from a cheap rookie pitcher, a bargain in every sense of the word.

And in this economic climate, you have to look for bargains wherever possible. A little work on the Internet could pay big dividends. Just remember the person who had to sell the seat you're sitting in for less than the price of a McDonald's Happy Meal.

-Eric Detweiler

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Moment of Appreciation for the World Baseball Classic

I just finished watching Japan play Korea on the brand new MLB Network for a spot in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic. Korea won 4-1, upsetting the 2006 champs. Japan will play Cuba for the final spot in the semis. This one wasn't an elimination game, but I am still overwhelmed by how awesome this event is, and how many bright spots there are for baseball these days on the world map.

Earlier, I watched with my father as the United States came back from a 5-3 ninth inning deficit to eliminate Puerto Rico. Kevin Youkilis, Brian Roberts, and Derek Jeter manned two thirds of the infield and batted during the decisive frame. Inter-divisional rivalry flew out the window when David Wright's blooper fell in and scored the tying and winning runs. The Americans ran on the field in joy, piled on Wright and behaved like elated Little Leaguers. This tournament embodies all of the most beautiful parts of the game.

As an AL East blogger, I should probably be writing about Jon Lester's contract, or condemning the Classic for [mildly] injuring Chipper Jones, Dustin Pedroia and Ryan Braun. But the Classic simply means more. As a Yankee fan, I should be thanking the baseball Gods for keeping C.C. Sabathia, Joba Chamberlain, Chien-Ming Wang and A.J. Burnett away from the competition.

But baseball is an international sport. And I hold a deep pride that I am from the country that invented it (although I may hold a deeper pride in being from the mile-square New York border town of Hoboken, New Jersey, where the first game was played). As a baseball fan, I want to see my country's best compete against the world's best. The kid in me wants to see C.C. take the ball in the finals or semifinals, and hand the ball over to Joba in the seventh or the eighth. And I am sure that the kids in Jeter, Roberts and Youkilis feel the same way.

Cole Hamels should be in Miami. Brandon Webb and Danny Haren should be in Miami. Rich Harden should be in Miami. Tim Lincecum should be in Miami. Lester should be in Miami. Grady Sizemore should be playing center field. And they should be facing Carlos Zambrano and Johan Santana when they play Venezuela in the pool championship game tomorrow.

As a Yankee fan, I hate Kevin Youkilis. From the visceral depths of my humanity. But as an American, I cheered my head off when he homered against the Commonwealth. And when he fought out an RBI walk during the comeback rally. And I know that somewhere in Boston, a Red Sox fan felt the same way I did when a ball kicked off Jeter's glove in the top of the inning, allowing Puerto Rico's insurance run to score. And when the long fly ball he hit in the ninth was caught.

This is, pardon my heresy, bigger than the Major League season. For soccer fans, when their team wins the league championship, they go bonkers. But when their country wins the World Cup, they lose their minds, party and riot for a week. That is what I want the World Baseball Classic to be [except for the acts of violence]. It is that for some of the other nations of the world. The Latin American players seem to mostly get what they are representing [with the possible exception of the star-studded Dominican Republic]. The Netherlands definitely did. The Asian teams do, too. But in order for that to happen in the U.S., we need our best guys to go play for us. Club teams be damned. There will be the occasional injury, but that didn't stop our players from fighting in World War II, where the risks were considerably higher. We need to get our pride back.

This is for our place in the baseball world. Here America has a chance to show the world what we can do on the diamond. And I challenge anyone to tell me that watching the U.S. rise from the ashes like a hackneyed metaphoric fiery bird of Middle Eastern lore was not just as exhilarating as a game seven in the playoffs. The U.S. team didn't seem to notice the difference in the middle of the mob.

These colors may not run, but Jimmy Rollins, Roberts, Shane Victorino and Jeter sure did when it was time to tackle Wright and scream.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Yankees' Third Base Battle Getting Interesting

Alex Rodriguez is apparently walking on his own two feet again [I am envious]. Yankees fans must be hoping for a speedy [natural] recovery. But the Yankees are still in need of a nice pair of crutches for the first month of the regular season to cover third base. If spring training is any indication [skepticism appreciated], there are a couple of nice options developing for the Yankees.

Cody Ransom, who hit .302 with four home runs and eight runs batted in [RBI] over 43 at-bats [AB] for the Bombers last season, is following up his cup of tea with an impressive Grapefruit League showing. He is currently hitting .364 with three doubles, a triple and two RBI's through 33 AB's. He has even stolen two bases without being caught. Maybe there is some magic in those 33-year-old journeyman legs after all. Defensively, Ransom has committed one error in 10 chances at third base over the course of his brief time in the big leagues.

And then there is his competition, 2003 Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award Winner Angel Berroa. Berroa was last seen hitting .230 with one home run and 16 RBI's for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season after being traded by the Kansas City Royals for a washing machine and an autographed copy of ex-President Bush's autobiography. But the air in Florida seems to be doing the former prospect well. He is hitting a robust .438 with two home runs and eight RBI's through his first 32 trips to the plate. Unfortunately, he had a lower fielding percentage at shortstop last season than the much-maligned Derek Jeter, and has yet to see an attempt at third base in his Major League career.

As well as these guys have performed in March, the Yankees are ultimately going to have to go with a subpar option at third base for the first month or month-and-a-half of the season. Rodriguez is obviously a big bat to replace, as well. Which is why I think that they would probably be better served by getting creative. Xavier Nady apparently played some third base in college, and was six-for-six in fielding opportunities at the hot corner over 18 innings at the position for the 2005 Padres.

No matter what the Yankees do, they are going to be playing someone out of position. Nady can't be much worse than Berroa or Ransom, and if he is even close to their level defensively, moving him out of right field would allow Nick Swisher to play until Rodriguez returns. Swisher was poised to play first for the Yankees until they swooped in and grabbed Mark Teixeira. Offensively, this is by far the best answer for the Yankees. Berroa has only gotten three chances at third this spring, and Ransom has an error in 16 tries. What do they stand to lose by giving Nady a look right now?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

LeBron pulls ahead for MVP

My topic will be the Eastern Conference of the NBA. The first post is about MVP.

Well, if you weren't watching the madness going on in the Big East tonight (you should have been, since that Syracuse-UConn game was one of the most impressive games ever), you might've been watching one of only two NBA games of the night. The Lakers beat the Spurs, and the Cavs beat the Suns. While Kobe had another great night, making clutch spots, LeBron edged ever closer to that MVP title.

This has been Wade's week, to be sure. Putting up consecutive monster games in points and assists, it seems that no one can beat Dwayne Wade. Except for maybe LeBron. James put up his third consecutive triple-double last night, with 34 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists. He also had three steals and three blocks, including a great block against a mid-360 dunk Jason Richardson. Impressive block.

It looks like LeBron's going to take the MVP. Kobe is great, as he's always been, but he's surrounded by a great team. Gasol's gotten so much better this year, so you can't really say Kobe's leading his team. He's had several great games, including that ridiculous game in Madison Square Garden (speaking of that 'Cuse-Conn game, another post on that arena coming soon), and a game where he led his team completely by assisting others. Nice guy.

Wade is beyond great this year, he's uninjured, and he's being impressive. But, when push comes to shove, he's not on a great team. He's got Beasley (who will be great, I promise, just give him some time) and now he's got Jamario Moon, an awesomely underrated player, but that won't save his record, which is only 35-29 at the moment.

Or what about Chris Paul? A triple-double two nights ago, arguably the only force putting his Hornets over the top. But no, it's got to be LeBron. Sure, he's got Mo Williams, but beyond that, LeBron is keeping his team in it. He inspires his teammates, and while his assists are almost exclusively to Williams, you can't argue against his effort, especially on defense this year. How many highlight reels have we seen with LeBron blocking a shot that would surely go in, if the team weren't playing Cleveland that night? Too many.

So that's my thoughts. Feel free to disagree.

On a completely different note. Completely different. Quick thoughts on the UConn-Syracuse game. With the exception of our lovable dopey Terps, Syracuse has been, by far, the most entertaining team to watch. Not North Carolina, not Oklahoma, definitely not Duke, and not Pitt. While all of these teams are refined teams and interesting to watch, none is more fun that a good Syracuse game. Between the quick adrenaline point guard Jonny Flynn, the shooter who shoots his mouth off as much as the ball Eric Devendorf, the big man who couldn't buy a foul shot Arinze Onuaku, and so many others, Syracuse has something that other teams don't have, or only have sometimes. Syracuse has flourish. They pass the ball brilliantly, as demonstrated in their deconstruction of Seton Hall, and they've got everything you want from a great ball club. Inside shooting from Flynn, outside shooting from Devendorf and Rautins, and post play with Jackson and Onuaku, they are too much fun to watch. I'm glad they won, and I hope they go a long way in the Big East tourney, but more importantly, the NCAA tournament. Go Orange.

That's all.

-Dave "Big Poppa" Smith

The Fightins' and the WBC

I guess I'll kick this thing off.

I'll be blogging about the Philadelphia Phillies, and I wanted to start by discussing the members of the Phils who turned down invitations to participate in the World Baseball Classic.

To me, the ideal situation regarding your favorite team and the WBC is to have players turn down spots. That means they are good enough to participate, yet they are not going to get hurt playing in a glorified exhibition.

Brad Lidge, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard all withdrew themselves from consideration to play for Team USA.

The Phils are still well-represented in the event, with Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino playing for the U.S., Carlos Ruiz playing for Panama, J.C. Romero pitching for Puerto Rico and Matt Stairs playing for Canada.

But the Phils' four marquee names are sitting out, and that's for the best.

You don't want Lidge or Hamels blowing out his arm in March, you don't want to see Utley rush back from his hip injury before he's ready, and you don't really need to see Howard over-exert himself either.

Let everybody else's stars tire themselves out in the WBC. The games are entertaining enough that you don't need to see the players from your preferred teams to make them worth watching.

The Phils will be ready to go April 5.