Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Putting on a Brave Face

“My” Atlanta Braves have had a bit of a roller coaster off season. After a disappointing sub .500 season the Braves attempt to better the team has had its share of good and bad.

It all started at the winter meetings, where there was not only the perception but a real belief that they would land a number 1 pitcher in the form of Jake Peavy from the Padres. Over close to 3+ weeks of speculation it kept looking more and more like it was going to happen. Then all the talks died. This drama all ended with no deal...this would become a bit of a trend.
Player 1 Braves 0

Rafael Furcal, a former Braves shortstop and free agent was apparently ready and willing to sign with the Braves to return to Atlanta and take back his position. Then at the 11th hour he “changed his mind” for a more polite way of putting it. After getting a signed term sheet Furcal and his representation went back to the Dodgers to allow them to counter, then, in the end opted to stay in with the Dodgers. Had there not been a term sheet there would probably not been the public scene and animosity. President John Shurholtz was upset that a verbal agreement was followed by an unprecedented and unacceptable sequence of events from where he sits.
“Having been in this business for 40-some years, I’ve never seen anybody treated like that,” Schuerholz told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. “The Atlanta Braves will no longer do business with that company -- ever. I told [agent] Arn Tellem that we can’t trust them to be honest and forthright. I told him that in all my years, I’ve never seen any [agency] act in such a despicable manner.
“It was disgusting and unprofessional. We’re a proud organization, and we won’t allow ourselves to be treated that way. I advised Arn Tellem that whatever players he represents, just scratch us off the list. Take the name of the Atlanta Braves off their speed dial. They can deal with the other 29 clubs, and we’ll deal with the other hundred agents.”
Players 2 Braves 0

Again there was much speculation that the Braves were one of the favorites in the A.J. Burnett sweepstakes. Now I wasn’t as bitter that they eventually lost out because I have seen him under perform in Toronto up until last season, conveniently a opt-out season. Burnett was offered a huge deal in Atlanta but decided to trade it in for a little more with the Yankees. In any event just another in a long line of high profile players that didn’t have Georgia on their Mind.
Players 3 Braves 0

Future Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, even though he is still recovering from an arm injury opted not to wait until he was full healed and signed a deal with the Boston Red Sox. The Braves who have had issues with the health of their rotation over the last couple of years (see entire rotation, especially Mike Hampton who was by all accounts stealing money based on his contract) looked to be waiting for more info on the progress and have lost yet another big player and gained yet another hole in their lineup.
Players 4 Braves 0

The Braves managed to actually acquire some players this off season, perhaps some were a little under the radar and not the big name splashes that they would have hoped for. They managed to help out their troubled rotation but acquiring Javier Vazquez and new Japanese player Kenshin Kawakami. With Tim Hudson recovering from Tommy John surgery they will be good middle of the line pitchers that should eat up some innings.
Players 4 Braves 1

The Braves Then finally was able to both sign and close a deal for “Ace” Derek Lowe. Perhaps not as big a deal as C.C. Sabathia or K-Rod but at this point I guess beggars can’t be choosers. Low even though he is slightly older still should have a little life in his arm and being a ground ball pitcher may help him out...provided he gets a little help by his defense, and of course some support from his offence.
Players 4 Braves 2

Most recently was the report that another Future Hall of Fame member wanted to fulfill a wish and play for the Braves. Ken Griffey Jr. apparently made a call to Chipper Jones and asked for info on the team and to let GM Frank Wren that he was interested in playing in Atlanta. Then came the reports that the Braves were on the verge of signing the free agent...followed by the news that in fact Griffey had opted to sign in Seattle and become yet another player to shun the Braves this off season. When told of Griffey’s decision on Wednesday night, Jones was somewhat upset about the fact he felt he’d wasted his time while providing information that he felt Griffey was seeking in an attempt to land in Atlanta. “It’s just another person who shunned us,” said Jones.
Players 5 Braves 2

The Braves were able to sign Kelly Johnson, Jeff Franceour and Tom Glavine to 1 year deals. All come with at least some baggage whether it be for on field performance or can they get back to the level that they either once had or has had expected of them. Franceour need to have a bounce back to the player he was when he first came up. Glavine just needs to be steady and log some innings, he is not expected to be the Ace but just a piece of the puzzle, at his age being a leader will be a big asset. Not knowing how they will perform that only gives the Braves 1 Run.
Players 5 Braves 3.

After I had written the majority of this post there was finally another development on this issue. The Braves managed to get another quality left handed bat to sign on the dotted line, perhaps one even more significant then Junior. Garrett Anderson signed a 1 year $2.5M contract that should help fill the void in left and help out in the platoon situations that will arise in the outfield this season. Anderson still can be productive provided he stays healthy. This may be a wild card signing bit at a decent price could pay dividends and help protect Chipper Jones in the lineup.
Players 5 Braves 4

In the end they still have fallen a little short by at least they kept it close and were competitive. Lets hope that they over achieve this season and get back close to the top of the East again, a spot that they deserve to get back to.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

This Blog Is Brought To You By The Letter C

Well the Ottawa Senators have delivered their stimulus package in regards to starting the trade movement in the NHL before the March 4th deadline. Yesterday the Senators pulled the trigger on a 2 for 2 deal with the New York Islanders. The Sens shipped out Dean Mcammond and San Jose’s first round draft pick this year for forward Mike Comrie and young defenceman Chris Campoli.

All season all you have heard about was we need a puck moving defenceman and someone to play the power play. Also the second favorite buzz words was secondary scoring. So in that regard I suppose the deal does make some sense. Comrie’s contract is up at the end of the year and Campoli is good next year at only $633,000. This is a deal that would have made more sense earlier on before they played themselves virtually out of the playoffs. I understand why it was difficult for Murray to make a deal in this environment as it isn’t the easiest thing to pull a deal that has a backbone involving his favorite letter....C

Seriously what is up with that? Is this how the team is going to be built? Mike Comrie, Chris Campoli...he first hired Craig Hartsburg then removed him from his duties in favor of Cory Clouston while keeping Craig Carvel as an assistant with the team and moved assistant coach Curtis Hunt to Binghamton. This is either a very interesting coincidence or the equivalent of a mission statement.

I think that the deal is not a bad one at this point and will probably lead to more movement going forward and will pave the road for some more deals, so it is too early to judge and as with most deals time will tell how this will pan out. Lets see what Murray has up his sleeve.

(We need depth and defense so may I suggest; D Christian Chartier from Chicago, D Chris Chelios from Detroit for some leadership, RW Chris Clark from Washington, D Carlo Colaiacovo from St. Louis...ahhh never mind, I have no use for Colaiacovo, never have after he was a top prospect for what seemed like 8 years. Oh and to solve any goaltender issues G Corey Crawford from Chicago and G Christopher Carrozzi from Atlanta.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Out With The New And In With The Old

Both hockey and baseball have players who think that they are boxers...or Brett Favre.

The NHL recently welcomed back super pest Claude Lemieux at age 43 after a lengthy retirement. He has seemed to pay his dues and worked very hard to get into the kind of game shape needed to play in the "new game". In a league that has made men close to 10 years younger look too slow for the more high paced, no obstruction game, Lemieux seems to be up for the challenge. Nobody expects him to be the player he was back in his prime, but perhaps as a 4th line role player he may be a serviceable asset for the San Jose Sharks.

Meanwhile in baseball there were just recently reports that Denis "Oil Can" Boyd is looking to make a comeback of his own...at age 49. Now this may be more of a stretch as he is even further removed from the game as well the fact that he wasn’t the most dominating player in the game by any stretch of the imagination when he was playing. In baseball it is usually the left handers who can hang on for way longer then they should because they are only needed for 8 pitch, or one batter whichever comes first. In 2005 Boyd came out of retirement to play in the Can-Am league.

We will see how both of these fountain of youth reclamation projects pan out, but I think that Lemieux may have an inside edge on this one. Time will tell

Friday, February 13, 2009

It's Go Time- Let the Games Begin!

It is finally starting to get to that time of year where everything is starting to amp up in the sports world again, and it couldn’t have happened soon enough. With cold weather and the sun and warmth apparently on vacation until April at least, staying inside and enjoying some quality televised events seems like a logical thing to do. Sure the NFL is done, both the Super Bowl and Pro Bowls are over but winter sports are in mid flight and just past the half way mark and the spring and summer sports are thinking about getting going.

The first sign that spring will soon be in the air - pitchers and catchers are to begin reporting to Spring Training today. Baseball will hope to put some of the off field issues to the back burner and we can start talking about player movement, off season signings and then eventually the games themselves. A welcome change from the annoying chatter that is steroids and investigations.

The Australian Open just concluded. With one of the greatest one-on-one rivalries of all time between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal the Men’s side looks to have an interesting year upcoming with the clay in Paris the next stop.

The PGA has started to get going and tournaments have began. You may have missed it with Tiger Woods still rehabbing his knee but soon he will be back and the world can begin to start spinning again.

Over the last 2 weeks NASCAR has been in Speed Weeks in Daytona Florida. Last weekend they held the Bud Shootout and pole qualifying. Yesterday they ran the Dual’s at Daytona, the 2 race-in qualifying for the Grand Daddy of them all the Daytona 500 that is to be run this Sunday. But more importantly it marks my boy Jimmie Johnson going for an unheard of 4th consecutive Cup Championship. Even if I am perhaps a bit bias when it relates to the 48 Lowes Chevy Impala SS. I am not so blind to throw too many eggs into that basket as the competition is very tough and there are a number of great young drivers that are ready to break through and some veterans who want to re-invent themselves as potential contenders.

Then the further you go down the list one must start to begin to look at NCAA basketball. March Madness isn’t as far away as you may think. This is the top sports tournament around ( I feel that it can be called the top tournament even if some may think the World Cup of Soccer is, but it is disqualified from the running as it is not a real sport and it is clear that it is one thing to play but is virtually un-watchable). It is never too early to do some pre-scouting and thinking about getting that bracket ready!

Of course there are the staples of this time of year as well, the NHL and the NBA. The NBA All Star weekend begins today with all the events and "Hoop-La" that conclude with the game on Sunday. As for the NHL, they are in full force on the road towards the playoffs and possibly more importantly the trade deadline. That is really the only off ice business that is fun during the season.

This is a great time to be a fan...as long as we focus on the on field product and not all the other crap that we are bombarded with.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gone Are The Days That The Sports Are The News

So yesterday was an interesting day in sports, but for the most part it wasn’t for on-field or on-ice issues. It is getting to the point when you are watching shows like SportsCenter or Sportsnet Connected where it takes 10 minutes of news before you get any highlights. It isn’t just the fact that it is news but it has little or no impact on the games but is more like an episode of E! Now or Extra or one of those gossip shows.

First there was the news that Jets QB Brett Favre has decided to call it a career...again. For this player who has had more speculation of "will he or won’t he" then Friends Ross and Rachel and an episode of The Young and the Restless combined. I think that maybe this one may stick just because this time he has a legitimate injury and even with the use of his trusty Bow Flex it will be difficult for him to make a recovery to get to the point where he is healthy enough to get back into game shape. It doesn’t hurt that there is little options for a banged up 40+ year old starting QB. In any event I will go ahead and set the over/under date before speculation starts up about a possible return at July 8.

Next there is the startling lawsuit brought against former Blue Jay great Roberto Alomar by an ex-girlfriend. A $15 million dollar civil suit. She claims that Alomar has AIDS, and insisted on having unprotected sex with her. This seems similar to the Trevis Smith situation in Regina for the former CFL player. Whether it was as predatory will be interesting to find out. But I guess we wait to see how it plays out. It is sad to hear on both a sports level / social level/ and a personal level, both for Alomar himself as well as the ex-girlfriend. Until more info comes to light we won’t know all the facts but whatever direction it takes it is an unpleasant situation. (Alomar was on time engaged to former French tennis star Mary Pierce who was born in Montreal)
What says Spring is coming like pitchers and catchers reporting, like they are to do this Friday to get the baseball season off and running? Well that isn’t this issue, again a couple off field issues that have taken that out of the headlines.

First it was Joe Torre’s book about his time managing the Yankees. Early quotes from the book made it sound like it was a tell all expose with things like -the players called ARod (Alex Rodriguez) A-Fraud and things of that nature. In actuality it wasn’t as bad as it first sounded but I don’t think that Torre is far enough removed, time wise to come out with a book. Thankfully for Joe his book has gone to the back burner after the SI revelation followed by the admission from ARod that he took performance enhancing drugs (possibly steroids and/or HGH) between 2001-2003. Some people have commended him for admitting use others criticize him for only kind of apologizing but still more ducking many questions. It is hard to give credit for telling the truth, something that you are supposed to do but it is more then many players before him. It was a no win situation for him in whatever he had said but at least he went a little further then Jason Giambi did when he apologized but never said what he was apologizing for. ARod had a blueprint on what to do after seeing how Clemens, McGuire, Palmero, Pettite, Tejada, et al.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Changing Channels Not An Option In Canada

After my last post it has lead me to make a comment on the state of TV in Canada and the US as it relates to sports. Now I have little problems with Canada’s existing sports specific channels, those being TSN (The Sports Network), Rogers Sportsnet and to a lesser extent The Score but I want more. Being a Bell Express Vu subscriber I have a respectable selection of live sporting events to choose from. Now that TSN has come out with TSN 2 allowing for both the ability to show 2 live sporting events at the same time (in the winter usually either 2 hockey games or a hockey game and an NBA game or perhaps tennis, maybe even curling) nationally as well the ability for time shifting showing programming on a 3 hour delay to allow you to watch the complete games of both matches if you so choose or if you missed the original broadcast...a nice option o have. Sportsnet does well with regional hockey but shows far less live games as it used to when it held the rights to broadcast NBA games but makes up for that with most Jays games during baseball season.

Now where I have an issue again is with the CRTC and the fact that there is no way that I can get everything that I want. Sure I could pay in excess of $100 for different packages covering sports like NHL Center Ice, NFL Sunday Ticket, NASCAR Hotpass, MLB Extra Innings or the NCAA package but that adds up pretty quick and there is a lot of overlap of crappy games that I wouldn’t want anyway. No, what I want is more choice, more options and most of all more variety. I guess in an effort to preserve Canadian content there is no way to legally get the programming that I want and what I want shouldn’t be that tough to get. Give me the option of having ESPN(s), some of the Fox SportsNet channels, NESN, Versus, YES Network TNT among others. As a fan of watching volleyball I would like to have the option of watching some matches. NBC will show 1 match a week of the AVP tour but the rest of the tournament is not shown, nor are any NCAA indoor games. I understand why Canadian programming doesn’t pick up these games as it is a very niche market but if the games are being televised I would like to have the option to watch them. I don’t need it on a Pay Per View basis just let me purchase the entire channel as I would if it were a specialty channel in Canada. If it comes to a case of matching the numbers in a total package of Canadian to US programming so be it, I may be willing to taking on some crappy Canadian channels in order to keep the ratio where it needs to be. All I am asking for is the ability to choose, ability to watch what I want , and ability to get some different perspectives. The only channels made available in Canada show nothing but crap. They try to fool people with ESPN Classic Canada, but not ESPN Classics so we get Classic CFL games (if there is more of an oxymoron title i’d like to hear it) Matches on Fox Sports World shows Footy (soccer), rugby, Aussie rules football and things of that nature....not entertaining and a weak effort to show “World Sports”.

I want Wednesday Night Baseball in the summer, weekly NBA games, Volleyball games. It is being broadcast, I don’t think it too much to ask that I have a chance to enjoy it, whether I live in Canada or the USA.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

My TV Was Hijacked By Canadian Government Pirates

So the Super Bowl is over for another year, the TV event of the year is over, but there is still an issue that needs to be touched upon and that is the TV coverage itself. Being in Canada there is an issue that arises and it is usually forgotten not long after the big game and that is the CRTC regulations that switch the feed that we get here. The game was shown in the US by NBC, the pregame started early on the network and continued through until the end, however what we got was NBC via CTV. CTV is a fine network but if I want to watch NBC I should be able to watch NBC. I have a satellite dish and even pay extra to have a second NBC western NBC and to not be able to watch it is annoying at best.

Part of the fun of the Super Bowl is getting to watch the new commercials that command in excess of $2.5-$2.9 million dollars for a 30 second spot. When, because of the switch of the feed we in Canada miss out on a good portion of them. One redeeming factor is that with the internet now we can see these online after but that is a minor victory. When I am watching the game on a clear TV maybe I don’t want to watch these commercials on a smaller computer screen at a lower quality later on. Maybe I don’t want to search to find this content and there is a pretty good chance that without a list I don’t know what to look for, which companies are advertising and where I can find the best quality ones.
Possibly the most aggravating issue is that the Canadian commercials that we get are Canadian Tire and Tim Hortons on a continuous loop. When they aren’t good in the beginning, repetition doesn’t make them better.

We were able to avoid this issue with the Olympics because CBC and NBC had in dependant coverage and their own crews (I understand the economics of the simulcast but it is all about choice) so it was separate and we were better for it as we had more choice

This isn’t just a Super Bowl issue as it happens not only for simulcast sporting events but for drama’s and sitcoms that are shown at the same time on both the US and Canadian channels. It is good that there are standards to keep Canadian culture and content on the airways but when you are paying for one thing having at least a choice would be nice.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII

In a welcome surprise the Super Bowl actually lived up to the hype this year! Now I don’t want to overstate the games greatness as the entire game was perhaps not the best ever but there was a flow and had some of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history sprinkled in every now and again. Some will say that the Cardinals got a raw deal in terms of some of the calls that went against them. Perhaps one can make a case for that. The Roethlisberger run on the first drive that was challenged and then overturned was a tough play to call and on the field but they did in the end get it right...but it did cost the Cards a challenge. The fumble call at the end that wasn’t reviewed was clearly a blown call, even though I thought it was correct and it was an open hand going forward they could have taken a few minutes to actually see for sure. What I found perhaps the most questionable call/no-call was on a play I never saw until after the game on a highlight package and that was Santonio Holmes using the ball as a prop in a LeBron James style gesture where he used the ball and pretended it was Talc and then proceeded to throw it into the air. That should have resulted in a 15yrd penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, thus giving the Cardinals even better field position and more time to work on less field on the final drive. It was interesting how that was overlooked.

The beauty of this game was the amount of "best of all time" plays. Granted it is always the easiest thing to call the most recent event as the best but in this case I think there may be room for discussion. Joey Hairston’s 100yrd interception return for a TD...with no time left on the clock...at halftime...if he goes down it’s over no points no other chance to score...and he goes down on Larry Fitzgerald and rolled into the end zone.

~ The 2 faces of Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was shut out for the first 3 quarters, then came the fourth where he went off for 7catches 127yrds 2TDs.
~ How clutch Santonio Holmes was with his 9 catches 131yrds 1TD and what may be considered as one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history, up there with last years David Tyree or Dwight Clark in the end zone.
~ One of the best passing games in Super Bowl history by Kurt Warner 31/43 377yrds 3TDs
~Ben Roethlisberger and his ability to scramble, stay on his feet, not take a sack and buy time to make play after play and extend drives. Ben should have been the MVP, maybe it sounds cliche that the QB for MVP but if he doesn’t stay on his feet Holmes doesn’t have a chance to make those throws.

Possibly as the most interesting and compelling part of the game itself was that not only did the Cardinals cover the spread but they actually had the best comback in Super Bowl history AND won the game on Larry Fitgerald’s TD run ...The only problem was that there was too much time left on the clock and Pittsburgh came back and won the game back from them and nothing proved that more then the picture of Fitzgerald on the sidelines mouthing ‘No, No, No, No, No’

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Round 2 to Nadal In Another Epic Match

It is rare in sports that you can legitimately root for two competitors in the same game at the same time. Usually there is a favorite team or competitor involved, a hated team or competitor or little interest in either. I have gotten to do this twice so far and both were in epic and classic tennis matches (yes tennis) between Rafael Nedal and Roger Federer.Early Sunday morning thousands of miles away on another continent was yet another epic match between these two rivals. It seems this is going to be only the second chapter to probably the greatest rivalry in sports today. Red Sox vs Yankees at its peak may not have even hit these heights. Sure there is less hatred between these two participants and seems to be nothing but respect between one another as shown when Nedal, while addressing the crowd said "Roger, sorry for today. I really know how you feel right now," Nadal said. "Remember, you're a great champion, you're one of the best in history. You're going to improve on the 14 of Sampras." Nedal is clearly a gracious winner but don’t think for one second that there is not a real fire when these two meet up.

A Grand Slam final without these two is like a golf tournament without Tiger Woods in contention on a final Sunday.
It was last year at Wimbledon that I watched at the time the most compelling match I have ever seen, and figured that I would ever see.
Maybe it was maybe it wasn’t, but this years Australian Open certainly was at the very least a close runner up. The circumstances were similar both Major Tournaments, both ones that Federer has excelled at in the past and now both won by Nadal.

There was just one small difference this time, Federer, at Wimbledon seemed to be congratulatory to Nadal and genuinely happy for him...as much as losing in a major can be tollerated by a highly competitive champion and world class competitor. No, this time was different. Federer seemed to, I don’t want to say fold but seemed to secumb to the pressure in the 5th and final set. Perhaps it was physical, as the match was a gruelling 4hour 23 minute affair but after what happened at the trophy ceremony it looked like it was more mental as the usually very strong and unemotional (some would say boring) Federer broke down during his address to the fans after receiving the second place platter. Is Nadal inside Federer’s head? I guess we will find out in Paris at the French Open or Wimbledon where Federer will yet again try to tie Pete Samperas with 14 career Grand Slams.

On the other side of the net is Rafael Nedal, the World #1 and currently the best player in the world and only time will tell if he will become one of the best ever. Health and determination will decide how far he will go, but at his young age it is well within reach.Nedal's win at this tournament are what legends are made of. Even if he hadn’t done what he did last year, this years tourney solidifies him as a true champion. Nadal managed to come back after a semi-final match only a day before that lasted over 5 hours, then he turned around and played a 4 hour 23 minute championship match agents a 13 time Grand Slam champion. If that wasn’t enough in the 5th and final set he came out and seemed to be the fresher player and more focused. A true credit to both his physical stamina and his incredibly focused mental makeup.
I look forward to the next installment of this battle and Federer’s quest to tie and surpass Pete Sampras for career Grand Slams.