Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Sports in One Town

Because every dad seems to know something about baseball, the dads flock to it, and so do their kids. In our town, the dads are all over the sport. They coach it as if each game were a Major League contest, despite the fact that while a Major League GM and a AAA manager live in the area, the area itself hasn't turned out a Major Leaguer in at least 25 years (the town probably never). There are more travel teams than you can count, populated not by virtue of tryouts before disinterested judges and an elevation of the best of the best, but because of who coaches the team, how many of his buddies assist him, how many parents want to say their kids play travel, how many parents can devote the time to 70+ game schedules and how many parents want to foot the bill.

The high school team in the area stinks.

And it's a very big high school.

There is also a regional lacrosse program that draws kids from multiple school districts. The kids who play typically like activity, because when you boil it down, of the hours that a baseball game takes to play, perhaps there are only 20 minutes of action, and each kid isn't a part of the entire 20 minutes. The men who coach typically don't have sons on the team -- they are young guys looking for a coaching credential, dads of kids who are older and don't have kids on the team. The teams themselves don't play against kids from the same town or county, but sometimes drive as far as an hour to play an opponent. The league's elders evaluate the kids at different grade levels each year and place them on a team that's appropriate for their skill levels and upside. Few complain.

The high school team finished in the top 10 in the state and is viewed as an up-and-comer.

I took lots of Latin when I was in school, and liked geometry a lot. My high school geometry teacher used to finish off her proofs with the letters "QED," which stood for quod erat demonstratum, or "that which has been proven."

If I were to put down a blank before my own scribbling of "QED," what do you think would fill it in?

Our local baseball/softball association is about to have a huge, nasty fight about who will head up the organization. On the one side are the softball guys, each of whom has his own agenda, a team to showcase his own daughter(s) on (some of whom are very good, some of whom are not), and each of whom really isn't accountable to the organization or to the town that lets them use the fields, as most of the kids on the travel teams are roaming Hessians who cast their lot with different teams each year, no matter where they live. They could care less about the town. These guys do want to reform travel baseball, though, by making it more of a meritocracy and taking it away from the "appoint a head coach, let him pick 4 assistants, and have 5 of a team's 12 spots get taken by their kids, each of whom gets priority playing time" approach. The other side wants to keep the approach, doesn't care about softball (although if pushed some one admit that the situation isn't good for the town but since each local softball association seems to work this way, the fact that everyone else does it is sufficient justification for our town's not helping its own girls), and wants to build more fields to create more travel teams, thereby cannibalizing the rec leagues even more. Their answer to the lament that the travel culture is bad is to offer a travel experience to anyone who wants it.

It's a classic case of the fact that I'm happy that a) I don't have a horse in the race and b) I hope that both sides lose. I have friends on both sides of the fight, among them a few good souls who first and foremost want to do right by town kids. There are also people on both sides who have their own selfish motives and who have acted badly. The situation calls for Solomon, if one is around. My kids are finished playing in and for this organization. The fight will be nasty and will linger. It's just a shame that the powers that be can't focus on what makes sense, what works, and put out offerings that are for the public good and the good of the town, and not just to fill the needs of the fathers who participate.


In Case You Missed It. . .

Metta World Peace was the first person voted off Dancing with the Stars. He used to be known as Ron Artest, who plays in a league that's called the National Basketball Association. That is, when it's functioning.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Penn State 14 Temple 10

I went to the game at the Linc today. I went to root vociferously for Temple, as my father played a few seasons there not too long after the Owls' last victory over the Nittany Lions and because he used to take me to their games -- at Temple Stadium, Veterans Stadium and Franklin Field. We saw some great games, some upsets and some disappointing losses (especially two heartbreakers to Penn State in the late 1970's). So, with the point spread below 10 (it was 7 at game time), I figured this was Temple's best chance in years to beat Penn State, and, to continue a ritual (which turned out to be watching Temple imitate Sisyphus by pushing the big rock up the hill and not getting to the top) of going to Temple games.

That said, I wanted to note the following:

1. I was surprised that the place wasn't packed to the rafters. Franklin Field (for a 31-30 Penn State win) and the Vet (for a 10-9 Penn State win) were packed and very loud. Then again, it was the 1970's, Penn State was a top 10 team, and Joe Paterno was "only" in his early 50's and very much relevant. Now, Penn State is not even a top 25 team, Paterno's legacy is getting tarnished weekly (he made himself bigger than the institution, and both his beloved Penn State and self are suffering). So, Penn State fans don't have the mojo that they once did, because their team is not all that good.

2. On the other hand, where did all of these Temple fans come from? Temple had its largest number of students ever attend an athletic event today -- almost 11,000 (a far cry from the number that go to games in Happy Valley, but, then again, Temple is a smaller school and more importantly for purposes of this paragraph a commuter school). There were lots of people in red at the Linc today, and you'd have to venture to guess that most of them weren't early arrivals for the Phillies' game to be played 7 hours later.

3. The Linc could do a better job for Temple. True, the game lacked the buzz of an average Eagles' game, but the concessions stands and services were somewhat lame in comparison. Perhaps it was just that it was a noon game, the place wasn't packed, and no one -- except for some players on both teams -- seemed to be fully alert.

4. The game was exceedingly sloppy. If I were Penn State's special teams coach, I'd start thinking seriously about stepping up my and my charges' game or else begin thinking about a different line of work. Temple blocked a field goal, blocked a punt and Penn State's kicker hooked a short field goal attempt and then hit the upright on an attempt in the fourth quarter that would have tied the game at 10.

5. After the game, we heard a Temple fan, somewhat irate, shout out to no one in particular, "They should take that offensive coordinator out on North Broad Street and shoot him." To which several Penn State fans responded, "Which one?" That was the funniest moment of the day, and it really spoke the truth. Both offenses were unimaginative, both yanked their starting QBs and then reinserted them late in the game. No QB played particularly well -- Temple's Mike Gerardi made some bad reads and threw too many interceptions, including a few late in the game that were invitations for Penn State to win the game. Temple's Chester Stewart, an option quarterback, didn't show much imagination in his reads. Penn State's Rob Bolden fumbled the ball near the Temple goal line late in the game and was otherwise unspectacular. Penn State's Matt McGloin probably looked the best of the four, but also made a few bad decisions and was yanked for Bolden late in the game. As they say on ESPN, "if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have a quarterback." Touche, for now, for both schools.

6. The two names I heard the most today on the loudspeaker were Michael Mauti (a linebacker for Penn State whose dad, Rich, played for the Lions in the 1970's) and Blaze Camponegro, a sophomore linebacker for Temple. Mauti made a key interception late in the game, seems to be a spiritual leader for the Lions' defense, and at one point had to have gone into the defensive huddle after too many offensive miscues to count and said to his teammates, "Guys, we're going to have to figure out a way to win this game, because the offense can't." Similarly, Camponegro seemed to be in on almost every big play, and it's hard to forget a name like his. And, yes, his first name is Blaze and not "Blaise."

7. Overall, Penn State won the game because they were bigger, quicker and better at pushing the Owls around than the Owls were at pushing them around. Still, I thought that when the FG attempt in the fourth quarter hit the crossbar, the Owls were going to win the game. To Penn State's credit, they stunk the joint out, but they still won the game. That said. . .

8. I don't think that they'll fare very well in the Big Ten. Sure, they should beat Eastern Michigan next week, but it's hard to see this offense doing much against any Big Ten school, and, as a result, winning more than two games in the Big Ten. I just don't see it -- they don't have the QB (and, quite frankly, State College is a place where the careers of outstanding HS quarterbacks have been known to die), they had trouble running the ball for the most part, and their passing game was good enough but not of the type that a fan who hadn't seen them would run away raving about it. Their defense was pretty good, and their special teams were bad (except for kicking off and receiving, where they were okay).

9. Their leadership also is very much at issue. Their top 3 coaches on offense -- the head coach, the offensive coordinator and the quarterbacks coach -- are all up in the booth. That leaves WR coach Mike McQueary, a onetime Penn State QB who is hard to miss because he's about 6'5" and has bright red hair -- as the leading offensive coach on the sidelines. That's pretty hard to understand. McQueary is animated and appears to be a take-charge guy, but you have to wonder what he says to his wife when he goes home after practice. There must be some big-time ventilation, including mutterings such as, "Honey, if I am still here next year, just take me out back during deer hunting season, shoot me, and tell the police it was an accident."

10. And that gets us to Paterno himself. I'm sorry, but I just don't get it, and Penn State alums and fans should say "enough is enough." He isn't Penn State, he doesn't run the place, the football program is a shadow of what it once was, and it's hard to believe that many if any top 100 recruits or their parents want to consider a school with an 84 year-old coach. This is not to say that Coach Paterno isn't a legend, doesn't stand for good principles and hasn't had an awesome career at Penn State. He has. But it's been long since past the time he should have retired, and now the program is suffering. It was plain for all to see today -- just a clunker of a game after another clunker of a game against a program with whom it competed annually for a national title.

You only have to go as far as Tallahassee, where Florida State had to deal with the issue of getting Bobby Bowden to retire. Unfortunately, it wasn't the most graceful exit, but it was time for Bowden to retire years before he did. And, in Jimbo Fisher, the Seminoles got a senior assistant coach with strong recruiting ties who has put Florida State back on the map (they are in the top 10 now) and will keep them there.

Penn State needs to do the same thing and tab a replacement for Coach Paterno after this year. No, it's not his son, Jay, either, as these positions are not a family business. That's not to say that Jay hasn't made valueable contributions to Penn State -- he has -- but there are many head coaches out there who would love the job, among them Al Golden, an alum who was UVA's defensive coordinator before turning Temple around and then taking the head coaching job at Miami, one he might want to leave if the NCAA levels the U with enough recruiting sanctions to turn it into solely a music school. There are other coaches out there as well with outstanding track records, and it's time -- for everyone involved.

Good atmosphere down at the Linc, exciting (if sloppy) game, good weather. Temple should go to a bowl game (if it can spring star RB Bernard Pierce free, which it couldn't do today) and finish about 8-4, 9-3 overall. Penn State will end up 5-7 or 4-8, and I just cannot see it winning more than a game or two in the Big Ten.

It was a Tale of Two State Schools today, and a very interesting one at that.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Another Reason for Phils' Fans to Boo Joe West

Click here and see what I mean.

For what it's worth, if it's a battle of who's telling the truth -- West or Phillies' skipper Charlie Manuel -- well, given West's history and history with the Phillies, I'd bet on Manuel.

That said, it's hard to win a protest like this, and the ruling on the field in all likelihood will stand.

But what MLB should do is review the rule, generally, so as not to let the home team benefit from the interference rules. Quite frankly, the rule should be construed against the home team, which has a better ability to control the fans than the visiting team. Since the home team has the better ability to control the risk, it should bear the burden of its fans' behavior. So, in this case, Pence's batted ball should have been ruled a hit. The rules committee can further develop the rules to determine what discretion the crew chief would have to call it a double or a home run. But to let the home team benefit from interference seems ludicrous.

Then again, to let the Phillies' benefit from a) poor planning by not having enough relievers because of some noble notion that it doesn't want to deplete its playoff-bound AAA team from glory at the expense of burning its bullpen and jeopardizing a world championship and b) having David Herndon pitch horridly (albeit after the fact) might not be wise either. Put differently, the Phillies had their chances yesterday, but they didn't capitalize.

Still, the rule should be examined in the context of whether to permit the home team to benefit. A shout out to Phil on the morning/afternoon weekend show on 97.5 the Fanatic for emphasizing this point yesterday.