Nothing But Balls
Sports From a Different Perspective…

Aug
13

Now compare that to Roy Hobbs…

This is an caveat on Al’s post about Rick Ankiel saving this summer in sports. Also, this serves as a way for me to plug one of my favorite movies. If Bernard Malamoud were to write The Natural today, it might very well be about Ankiel. Ankiel along with the fictional Hobbs came up as pitching prospects. Both packing serious heat, they showed great signs of talent and potential. In the Book and Movie, Hobbs as a young man struck out a character comparable to Babe Ruth on three pitches. Ankiel hosed everybody in the National League, until he started hearing voices and lost his edge. Hobbs got shot by a confused woman. Each lost their careers, but continued to work hard to get to the show. Ironically, both got their tickets punched through power hitting and playing right field. Things ended bittersweet for Hobbs, lets hope that is not the case for Ankiel.

Aug
12

Penguins Locker Room

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Atlantic Division will be the toughest division in all of the NHL this season. The New Jersey Devils won the division last year with 107 Points. The Penguins came in second with 105, the New York Rangers third with 94, and the New York Islanders finished fourth with 92. All four of these teams made it to the NHL playoffs. The last time a division placed four teams in the playoffs: 2003-04 Season Northeast Division: Boston, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

The lone team that dove into the Atlantic Ocean: (does 10,000 losses ring a bell? Yea, same town as the Phillies) the Philadelphia Flyers. As a Pens fan, I want to remind all Flyers faithful that the Pens swept the season series last year. The Flyers finished with a deplorable 56, last in the Eastern Conference and last in the National Hockey League. Okay, that was last season.

All five teams have revamped due to the Entry Draft and Free Agency.

In the Draft, Philly got the second pick: James Van Riemsdyk a New Jersey native, 18 year old Left Winger that probable won’t pull a Jordan Staal and make a NHL roster at the age of 18. The NY Rangers first pick was Russian Alexei Cherepanov, another 18 year old. He will not try to escape Russia like Malkin had to do last year; Cherepanov said he will stay with his team in Russia. The Pens drafted Angelo Esposito, an 18 year old center from Montreal. He will have a difficult time getting on the Pens roster. New Jersey and the NY Islanders didn’t have any first round picks. None of their respective drafted players are expected to play in the NHL next season.

Although the teams’ picks from the 2007 Entry Draft most likely won’t make an impact this season, the free agents most certainly will affect the Atlantic Division teams. The NHL Free Agency Season started on July 1st.

Thus far, the Penguins have signed Petr Sykora, Darryl Sydor, Dany Sabourin, Jeff Taffe, Ty Conklin, Tim Brent and Mike Weaver. The Pens lost backup goalie Jocelyn Thibault and right wing Michel Ouellet in free agency. Thibault is now with the Buffalo Sabres; Ouellet is a member of the Tampa Bay Lighting. The Pens definitely improved through free agency. Thibault is replaced by Dany Sabourin and Ty Conklin; MAF(Marc Andre Fleury) is still the starting goaltender. Petr Sykora will put to shame any ideas coming from the ‘Burgh that Ouellet is better than him.

The New Jersey Devils signed Dainius Zubrus, a former Sabre and Capital. Also, Karel Rachunek, a defenseman, and Kevin Weekes, a goalie, signed with the Devils, both leaving the Rangers. Vitaly Vishnevski left the Predators, and the defenseman is now a Devil. Aaron Asham, former Islander forward will now play for the Devils.

Ian Moran

True Pens fans will remember Ian Moran, the great utility defenseman and forward for the Pens from 1995-2003.

Unfortunately, he is now a Devil; God rest his soul.

Although the Devils signed a lot of players, they lost a few key skaters to free agency. Scott Clemmensen, the irreplaceable backup to Martin Brodeur, is a Maple Leaf now. Brad Lukowich has left New Jersey for better beaches in Tampa Bay that he longed for last year, and Brian Rafalski is in Detroit.

Scott Gomez has gone from the Devils to New York Rangers. This is the first time the Rangers have actually signed a good player and not payed too much for him… o wait he will make 10 million dollars next season. Wow, New York just loves over paying everyone. Chris Drury is now a Ranger, yea Buffalo choked again. He will earn 7.1 million this season. The Rangers lost Brad Isbister, Michael Nylander, and Jed Ortmeyer.

New York Islanders signed Jonathan Sim, sucks, Andy Sutton, Matthew Spiller, Aaron Johnson, Joey MacDonald, and a few real hockey players named Mike Comrie, Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko. The team lost Tom Poti, Viktor Kozlov, Jason Blake AKA Cheap Shot Aficionado, Sean Hill, Ryan Smyth(GM Garth Snow lost the battle for him to Joe Sakic and Colorado) and Richard Zednik.

Philly tried to forget that they finished at the bottom of the NHL. They signed Daniel Briere and umm yea no one else. Mike York left to be with Gretzky in Phoenix; Todd Fedoruk is now a Star, Dallas Star that is.

Clearly, the Atlantic Division had a ton of free agent activity. My rankings of the team’s free agent affairs:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins: Sydor and Sykora are awesome and Ray Shero is a genius.

2. New York Rangers: Getting both Gomez and Drury gets you here, but overpaying them will come back to kick New York in the ass.

3. New Jersey Devils: Zubrus, Vishnevski and Ian Moran gained, Martin Brodeur still there. That’s all you need.

4. New York Islanders: Comrie, Guerin, Fedotenko all really good, but Garth you lost too many good players.

5. Philadelphia Flyers: Briere is a tremendous player, but will he be enough to carry you?

Aug
12

Yes, this is extremely premature. In fact, it’s the Boston sports fans who are most aware of this fact. However, when your town is home to David Ortiz, Tom Brady, Kevin Garnett, Manny Ramirez, Paul Pierce, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Randy Moss, Ray Allen, Adalius Thomas, Curt Schilling, Bill Belichick, Josh Beckett, Asante Samuel, Jonathan Papelbon, Eric Gagne, ROTY Candidates Dustin Pedroia and Hideki Okajima and the aging but ever-intimidating (read: dirty) Rodney Harrison, well, you have a lot to expect. Except from the Bruins, although I hear they are improving.

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Fans of these teams have a lot to look forward to in the coming months.

The Red Sox and Patriots have been consistently good over the last several years, and both have gotten better. While every individual who considers them self anything of a baseball fan knows the Red Sox signed Dice-K this offseason, many people do not realize that the Sox, who are also loaded with veteran talent, have the top THREE candidates for the A.L. Rookie of the Year in Matsuzaka, head-snapping reliever Hideki Okajima and undersized but hard-swinging second baseman Dustin Pedroia. The overwhelming amount of talent playing the in the Old Green Church of Baseball on Lansdowne Street, both young and old, has the Fenway Faithful as well as the majority of the baseball world thinking World Series.

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While any of these guys could take home ROTY hardware, Daisuke is poised to win at least 16 games this year and should be the favorite.

The Patriots, runners up in the AFC last year, landed two HUGE free agents as well as several other key parts. The giants in question are Randy Moss and Adalius Thomas. Moss’s reputation precedes him- bastion of nearly unrivaled talent but a questionable work ethic and a penchant for running over crossing guards and throwing pots of boiling water on his significant other. Seeing as the dude in the sleeveless hoodie tends to be a good evaluator of talent, Moss will at least come close to 2004 form where he dominated the league. Thomas on the other hand isn’t as famous, yet he is the perfect acquisition for the Patriots defense. He is one of the most versatile defenders in the league along with Julian Peterson and Jason Taylor and is a perfect fit for the Patriots’ complex defensive schemes. Not satisfied with their two superstars, the Pats also grabbed speed burner Donte Stallworth, who is a true threat when healthy, and the perfect #3 compliment in Wes Welker. Couple that receiving trio with emerging tight end Ben Watson, break out stud running back Laurence Maroney and the Sexiest Man alive, and the Patriots are the clear favorite in the NFL.

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Patriots fans should be as excited as Tom Brady at a supermodel/actress only fertile uterus convention considering all the weapons this well dressed individual will have this season.

As the Red Sox and Pats success is almost to be expected, it’s the Celtics who will turn the most heads this upcoming season. Several trades have left the Celtics with a core nucleus of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Sure, those three and nine bums picked from the Boston Common would be good enough for at least 5th place in the Leastern Conference, the Celtics also have Rajon Rondo, a lightning fast yet turnover prone point guard who could develop into a borderline AllStar (okay, that’s pushing it), and a frontline that includes Big Baby Davis and Scott Pollard. On second thought, Scott Pollard sucks and Davis is fat. I’m sticking with the argument that Allen, Pierce and KG are about enough to get you to the NBA Finals out of the East

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You’re telling me these three alone can’t contend for the East? C’mon.

Is it unrealistic to expect 3 rings? Yes. Very. The chances of the Celtics beating the Suns/any of the Texas teams is pretty damn small. But 2? With the Sox deep rotation and what is looking like the best Patriots team on paper, EVER, it could be 2004 all over again.

Aug
11

It’s been a Bananarama-esque cruel summer. There’s the horrible Vick dogfighting scandal. (this was actually only “bitter sweet” for me. Granted I love dogs, but any headline that includes the words “Michael Vick” and “Federal Indictment” seems like good clean fun to me.) There was the disturbing Donaghy scandal, which destroyed the semblance of respect I had for NBA referees. Now Barry Bonds has tainted the most hallowed record in all of sports and seemed poised to ruin one of my favorite baseball seasons. Should the Sox win the World Series (literally knocking on wood as I speak) it would always be the summer that a ‘roid fueled asshole named Barry Bonds passed one of my favorite athletes of all time in Hank Aaron.

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Simple recipe for a shitty summer

As the Yankees close the gap in the AL East, my summer was completely turning to shit, particularly in baseball. I’ve had shitty baseball summers before, considering last year at this time I was living through the Boston Massacre Part Deux, but still, this was pretty goddamn disheartening. When you factor in that I’m picking 5th in our fantasy league as opposed to 3rd last year and can’t even properly look forward to fantasy football, I was somewhere between “irate” and the captain in 300 after his son is decapitated.

Then, with one swing of the bat, Rick Ankiel saved my baseball summer and more than likely the life of some elderly woman incapable of putting her turn signal on sometime within the next week. For those of you who don’t know, Ankiel was the mega pitching prospect who was promoted to the Cardinals in 2000 and finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting with some nasty stuff, namely a fastball that could hit 97 on the gun and a filthy 12-6 curve. Ankiel, who posted a 9.98 K’s per 9, seemed ready to dominate the game. However, when people think of Rick Ankiel, they remember the 2000 postseason rather than the season itself. Ankiel is the guy who confused the backstop with the strikezone in the 2000 NLCS, hurling 5 wild pitches in one inning. Ankiel couldn’t find the strike zone again and basically fell off the baseball map.

After a frustrating few years in the minors, during which he was demoted all the way to rookie ball, Ankiel, determined to make it in the bigs, switched to outfield. His impressive slugging numbers in the minors where overshadowed by injury problems, until this season. With everything going well for Rick, (32 round-trippers in Triple A ball) he was promoted to the Cardinals due to a Scott Spiezio drug problem. Then, in his fourth at bat after going 0-3 and striking out twice, Ankiel smack a pitch into the right field stands and cemented one of the greatest stories of the summer. The fact that Tony LaRussa was actually smiling (making that twice this decade, the other being after the World Series) told it all. While years from now the only homerun from this season that will be remembered is Barry’s steroid-shot into the AT&T Park outfield, it was Rick Ankiel, who may never hit another homerun again, who made this summer one to remember.

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Making this guy crack a smile, let alone run along the dugout like a little kid, is a hell of a feat.

Aug
10

Common to most cities, in Pittsburgh, the NFL team’s fan base crushes that of the NHL’s local team. I have no problem with this imbalance; however, this is a call to all “yinz” Stillers fans to follow the Penguins for at least the next season.

Let’s face it, without Jerome Bettis, Bill Cowher, Joey Porter, Jeff Hartings and Ken Wisenhunt, the Steelers are not going to be the same as usual. Mike Tomlin has started a new era in the franchise’s history. I’m not saying the Steelers are going to tank this season, but pay attention to the best team in the burgh: The Penguins.

The Penguins finished with 105 points last season, second highest finish in team history. The 2007-08 pens will be an even better team than the 2006-07 penguins. They may not finish with more points in the regular season, due to the fact that the Atlantic Division will be the toughest division in all of the NHL next season. However, with the addition of Petr Sykora, Darryl Sydor, the Pens are Stanley Cup contenders. They will be even more exciting to watch this year.

Ray Shero and Michel Therrien are now amiable towards each other. Both decided to send the Pens back to Boot Camp this year. The Penguins will spend a week this summer before the season starts, at West Point for conditioning and team building. Last year, this training regiment with the Army worked extremely well. The Pens became more disciplined, better trained and even had fun at boot camp. This year’s return will be as successful as last years.

Petr Sykora

Petr Sykora will be wearing number 17 for the Pens. He played for the Edmonton Oilers last season and had 22 goals and 31 assists in 82 games. He is a left-handed right winger. He was drafted 18th overall by the New Jersey Devils in 1995. Sykora is the best Czech player the Penguins have had since Jaromir Jagoff left in 2001.
Petr Sykora’s Profile:

http://www.nhl.com/nhl/app?service=page&page=PlayerDetail&playerId=8460465
http://youtube.com/watch?v=BuuF-I0pfMI

Darryl Sydor is the veteran Defenseman the Penguins were missing on the blue line last season. He is another first round draft pick, 7th overall by the LA Kings in 1990. He will solidify the Pens blue line; he has a career plus minus rating of Plus 23. Sydor brings playoff experience to the Penguins which will help the team in the 2007-08 season.

Sydor’s Profile:
http://www.nhl.com/nhl/app?service=page&page=PlayerDetail&playerId=8458172&tab=crst

Darryl Sydor and Petr Sykora will help the Penguins thrive this year. For all yinz Pittsburghers who have not jumped on the Penguins band wagon yet, you better do it now because the Penguins are Stanley Cup contenders this season, and let’s face it the Steelers aren’t Super Bowl contenders this year.

Aug
09

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(Barry Bonds Being an Asshole after he his record breaking home run)
Often times in sports, the greatest moments involve the game’s biggest stars shining to their potential. In these moments, there sometimes has to be that other guy who is remembered, for  their entire lives, for less than good reasons. This is especially so in baseball, with the one on one matchups provided that happen at least 54 times a game. Even more than that, the long ball holds something truly special. Most knowledgeable sports fans know that Ralph Branca gave up the “shot heard ’round the world” to Bobby Thompson, Al Downing gave number 715 to Hank Aaron, and Mitch Williams hurled the pitch to Joe Carter in the 1993 world series. These are but a few, and one more name was added to that list on August 7th, 2007.

29 year old hurler Mike Bacsik, after giving up a double and single to Barry Bonds, in the fifth inning of the incredibly important game between two last place teams stretched and delivered the pitch that would become 756. In typical Bonds fashion, upon clubbing the ball into the mob that developed in right center field, watched the small orb get smaller and smaller until it left the yard. Fortunately, he only put his hands up in celebration and didn’t do a spin or anything else. That is probably because if he were to perform such a motion both of his ACL’s would tear, end his career for good at 755, because he did not make it around the bases.

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(Barry Bonds after Breaking the record, thoroughly ignoring his godfather, and one of the greatest baseball players of all time, Willie Mays)
Then as the Steroid Slugger put down his landing gear as he rounded the bases to home and Elias Sports officialness, his son stood to greet the new home run king. As the son, proud of the work his father did to touch all the bases without needing an HGH pick-me-up, went to embrace the Giant of a Giant. Bonds, the elder, just stood looking at the sky, his hands straight up to the heavens, thanking whatever deity he follows, barely acknowledging his son. Similarly, as the game stopped to honor the achievement, Henry Aaron delivered his congratulations to the new standard bearer, in a more than classy and sincere couple of minutes. Then the biggest Giant of a Giant, Willie Mays, Bonds godfather, stood with the man of the hour. What did he get in return? Bonds treated him like a roadie transferring the microphone back and forth that he used to thank God. Unfortunately, he forgot to thank his agent Jeff Borris for getting him a 16 millions dollars this year, his former personal trainer Greg Anderson, along with his buddy Victor Conte for prolonging his career making him better than ever.

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(Barry Bonds, similarly, thoroughly ignoring his son waiting at home plate) 

On the opposite side of the coin, Mike Bacsik, the unfortunate pitcher,  graciously tipped his cap to the Giants left fielder and during interviews since has been chipper and self deprecating. Also despite the stoppage of play and the magnifying glass on San Francisco, The Nationals staged a comeback to win the game. So, Mike Bacsik you did not even lose the game. Even though, it appeared as if when Bacsik left the ball up an over the plate, he wanted to seriously drop the “F” bomb, the pitcher held  it in and served as the only classy person involved in the on-field proceedings. Even though it would have led to an awesome bar conversation starter. “Hey, ya remember that dude who gave up the record to Bonds, and then put one in his ear.” The response would be, I imagine, “Yeah man, that was fucking awesome.” Even with that, I am glad that Major League Baseball can shine a light on something.

Aug
06

What is the bigger accolade for Tiger Woods on Sunday August 5th, 2007? Was it being crowned ESPN’s Who’s Now champion, or was it winning his 6th championship at the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club. The Who’s Now segment was dumb, even though I saw every episode and they should have just crowned el Tigre when they intorduced the sompetition, so the later wins in my opinion. What makes it extra special for Tiger was his five under, 65, performance toasting “rival” Rory Sabbatini. Sabbatini shot a 74 after being only one behind the best golfer in the world going into Sunday.

Sabbatini earlier this year stated, “I think he’s more beatable than ever”. He ran his mouth after his tournament leading 67 after the first round of the Players Championship at Sawgrass. Ironically, Sabbatini made his comments after losing to Woods in the Wachovia Championship, finishing third after Tiger passed him on Sunday. His explanation was as such, “I think there’s a few fortuitous occasions out there that really changed the round for him at Wachovia. And realising that gives me even more confidence to go in and play with him on Sunday again”. He also spewed, “I want Tiger”.

This Sunday, he got his wish, on Tiger’s best course. There was no better time to make his point than at a World Golf Championship Event at one of the most storied courses in the world. What happened to poor Rory, he got his ass kicked, and then vented his anger on a spectator who called out Sabbatini for his comments. What do you have to say for yourself Rory, what that I hear… silence.

A similar occurence happened last year when Tiger was called out by 64 seed Stephen Ames. Ames who routinely makes an early exit in the Accenture Matchplay Tournament criticized Woods’ driving. Tiger then thoroughly pounded Ames in their match winning 9 out of 10 holes they played. His dominance is nearly unmatched in modern sports and anytime somebody lights a fire under him he readily lights them up on the course. Idiots like Skip Bayliss like to malign Tiger, saying he does not have any real rivals, which lessens his significance. Maybe he is just so much better than everybody else.

Aug
06

I remember watching from a hotel room in 2001, Barry Bonds record breaking season, seeing the Giant outfielder club two home runs against his biggest rival the Los Angeles Dodgers. That day in early October (the baseball season was delayed that year because of the 9/11 attacks) as I was laying on the couch attempting to fall asleep, my eyes were drawn in by the voice of Jon Miller talking about Bonds breaking the record set just three years before for single season round trippers. I do not recall Bonds chasing the record before that point. I do not know if I was just not following sports that much or if because of 9/11 I was distracted, but it was not prior to that night, when I realized that Bonds was chasing McGwire. At the time I thought that was pretty cool, but it still felt cheap.

I remember reading within the next days in some publication, a sort of mallaise, describing the cheapening of the record held by Roger Maris for 37 years. It seemed as if it were going to be broken every few years, and a new era of baseballs flying out of ballparks everywhere would begin. Instead, the era of BALCO and steroid testing began. Before the infamous BALCO trials, Bonds drew comparisons to Babe Ruth with his scary good numbers, but I along with many others knew something just was not right. We could not explain it, but we noticed Bonds bigger and better than ever. How can a guy, who never hit 50 in a year, and all of a sudden 73 are clubbed out? As his head grew, so did the suspicions, and then culminated in the investigative reporting of Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada.

The San Francisco Chronicle reporters used their sources, mostly BALCO steroiod pusher in chief Victor Conte, to report Bonds testified to a grand jury in December 2004 that “he never used substances knowingly, that were steroids{paraphrase}.” The two substances in question were known as the “cream” and the “clear”. He believed these substances arthritis cream and flaxseed oil respectively. More recently, in an interview on HBO, the inventor of the clear, Patrick Arnold, claimed that in his conversations with BALCO executive Conte, that the lab owner boasted of Bonds progress on his program. These revelations along with the full and unadulterated content in Williams and Wada’s book Game of Shadows build more than a solid argument that Bonds is a cheater even though he never failed a drug test.

However, Bonds also has proven not just to be a cheater on the field, but off the field as well. It has been reported that Bonds did not reveal certain expenses on his tax returns and is also guilty of infidelity towards his wife. Today on Jim Rome’s show, during the “forum” segment, regular guest Roger Lodge gave the opinion I have been holding for a long time, Bonds is a cheater and the greatest record in sports is tainted, hopefully not forever.

Jul
24

Refereeing in the NBA has been a problem for a long time. The impression was though that this was at least somewhat league sponsored by David Stern and his merry men. Either through complicit impression or just failure to crackdown on bad calls. This is because the seats are filled due to fans who want to see high powered offenses take the floor every night. Also these fans want to see the Kobes and LeBrons put up fifty a game. All that money filling the owners and players pockets comes from these compatriots and therefor nothing gets done.

The Supposition would be then that when it was revealed that a league official is accused of either betting on NBA games, giving information on such games, or actively calling games to affect the outcome in the favor of bookies or deep pocketed sports bettors, compromises the game as a whole. How many other referees are as crooked as this one? Could it be that the guys in the blue shirts are fixing games and taking kickbacks from satisfied mafiosos?

My thought is that the officials are bad because they are supposed to be. This is not because of some gambling ring shaving points. Fans want to see 220 plus points per game so the league does nothing and hence condoning not calling walks against the Association’s top players. Evidence shows me Donaghy is just a bad seed in rotten batch. His behavior is classic of someone with a gambling debt that does what he can to keep his knees in condition they have grown accustomed to. It has been revealed that he is a gambler, being seen in Atlantic City playing tables. Most gambling occurs outside casinos and because it was the organized crime unit of the FBI that has nabbed the ref, I am prone to believe that Stern is right. I could be wrong, but most likely this is an isolated incident and the long tradition of bad officiating in the NBA will continue uncompromised by Tim Donaghy.

Jul
19

Remember This!

www.jibjab.com/view/113910

Featuring Favorites
“Oh Snap; I didn’t see nothin’ ”

“I didn’t kill no motherfuckin’ Lion”

“Leave the Man Alone…He didn’t take your fuckin’ puppet”