SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

No League for Old Players

An odd stat made is way through the airwaves in Philadelphia -- that players older than 35 or so seldom get more than 400 at bats in a season.  Which is just great if you're counting on an aging core that starting getting old after the World Series championship season of 2008.  Which means, of course, that Phillies' fans should be prepared to watch a bunch of AAA roster players at the Major League level by mid-summer.  Which means that the Phillies' decline -- which went from the World Series victors to a 70-92 season last year -- might continue and get worse.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Interesting, Tough, Basketball Weekend

Hard to pass up court side NBA seats, where I had the privilege of sitting last night for part of the 76ers-Mavs game.  While the Mavs scored 42 in the first and looked like they were going to break all sorts of records, the 76ers fought back mightily, a tribute to the coaching of Brett Brown and the leadership of Thad Young and Michael Carter-Williams.  While Dirk Nowitzki still has it, Vince Carter sadly does not, but the Mavs had plenty of weapons and outlast the 76ers, who did pull within four to 77-73 before running out of gas because they had only seven eligible players.

After depleting their roster to win the Andrew Wiggins/Jabari Parker sweepstakes, the hometown hoops team fielded a team of Thad, MCW and the Pips.  In all seriousness, the players played hard -- they just weren't good enough.  Sitting court side gives you a unique, special experience, and one of the best was watching Thaddeus Young interact with young fans during the warm-up after half-time, at one point tossing a ball to one of the kids I had with me and saying, "Here, do you want to shoot it?"  Perhaps if the 76ers were fighting for a playoff seed Young might have been as relaxed, but it struck me that as the 76ers re-build their squad they'll need a veteran leader.  I have liked Thad Young since they drafted him years ago, and he probably is the guy to shepherd the young players and help lead them on their journey, ultimately after a few drafts, deep into the NBA playoffs.  Already, he is someone special.

So that was Friday night, a night of great food (the seats also are tied to some good culinary options), good basketball (it was entertaining) and even better company.

Late this afternoon, I coached my rec league team, and, sadly, we ran into a buzz saw.  We were short three players, including our second and third leading scorers (who also are two of our best defenders), and we ran into a buzz saw.  We needed to play a precise game in order to be close; they decided to hit almost every shot they took (a la Shawn Marion the night before, who was 11-14 from the floor and hit every runner he took).  Instead, we ran out of gas after halftime, we turned the ball over and didn't hit our shots.  We went into the game 5-2, although the combined winning percentage of the teams we beat was something like .200 while the combined winning percentage of the teams that beat us was .850.  Translated, it was hard to tell how good we are -- we have good kids, some very good athletes, but not much size, and some 8th graders are just pretty big.  We were close after one, down twelve at the half and twenty after three.  Turn out the lights, the party was over.  Ouch.

And that led to this evening, where we traveled to Jadwin Gym at Princeton to watch the Tigers host Harvard, which is battling Yale for the top spot in the Ivies and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.  Happily, Tiger fans learned early that the Tiger women avenged a loss to Harvard on the road in Cambridge to take the lead in the Ivies, and perhaps that karma spread to the men's team.  The Tigers led at the half, although an ominous sign was that after being down double digits the Crimson came back near the end of the first half.  And then the second half was all Harvard -- the Tigers stopped shooting well, and Harvard shot better, and Harvard's better athleticism showed.  The Crimson showed why they are a force, both in the Ivies and outside it, and in the end it was they who won by double digits, dismantling the Tigers.  What had once looked like a promising season for Princeton (they were 11-2 before the Ivy season began) has turned into a league nightmare -- the Tigers are 6th in the Ivies.   Double ouch for the day.

I did refrain from trying to toss my napkin into our garbage can in the kitchen from ten feet after I got home from the Princeton game and had a snack.  I was fearful that a Harvard guard would steal it or that I would toss up an air ball.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Does Anyone Really Care About the Winter Olympics?

We've just had the Winter Olympics of our own, what with a three-day power outage after the ice storm that hit southeastern Pennsylvania.  The frequency of falling branches made the neighborhood sound like a firing range for a time, a transformer blew, a light show ensued, and huge pockets were plunged into darkness and cold.  Neighbors were generous all around -- offering help removing downed branches, a place to stay, meals, a place to hang out and do laundry, proving once again how important community is to everyone.  It was a difficult challenge, making sure the pipes didn't freeze, the power lines were cleared and getting everyone where they needed to go to.  Thankfully, despite the bad weather and downed trees, few people got hurt.

That said, the beginning of the Olympics came and went.  They're mostly for cold-weather countries, and while Americans like to win, with the advent of cable TV, it's much easier to watch your favorite college basketball team than to watch just what was available way back when when the likes of Jim McKay and Jack Whitaker had you riveted to your seat.  Sorry, the combination of anything that Vladimir Putin and a bunch of greedy oligarchs runs and sports that you need a lot of money to compete in if you're the average person just makes the Olympics a non-starter for many.  Add in the time-zone difference and the overall Russian attitude to those not Russian and those not straight, and, well, who really cares?  We worry about conflict minerals and perhaps soon drug gang avocados, but what about "Blood" Olympics?

Oh, sure, the wars should stop to make room for the games and we all should put aside our differences in order to let the games begin, but the IOC has hardly recovered from the whorehouse image it richly enjoyed over the past decades, as if the IOC were ever populated with the high-minded (the former head decades ago, Avery Brundage, was a bigoted racist, and that's on a good day).  The whole concept is one big exercise in sausage-making, and while I like certain individuals and root for them, I sincerely doubt I'll tune into anything other than hockey or curling, because it will be cool to see the 22 year-old gym teacher from Minnesota win a medal.  And it might be fun to watch Lolo Jones try to win a medal on bobsled, but most of the participants wear helmets and body armor across the board, so you cannot see their faces.

Yes, of course there's the darling sport, figure skating, but don't get me started on the (at least petty) corruption that can exist in any "sport" that gets determined by judges.  Sure, we're past the days when the East German or other eastern bloc judges would screw participants from the west with impunity, but it's hard to discern what the judges or looking for and whether the 10th ranked skater in the world can ever erase her tenthrankedness with the judging community and nail down the gold with a superlative performance at the Olympics.  Seems to me that unless you are the mega-upandcomer, once tenth, always in the second division.  And, if that's the case, what's the point?

Okay, so I'm a little bit cranky from being a road warrior and sawing wood for three hours on Wednesday to unblock my driveway, but I'd rather watch a good college basketball match-up or even my favorite TV show.  Watching events on time delay in the age of Twitter makes little sense, as does letting Vladimir Putin run anything that transcends Russia.  If the Russian people "elect" him fine (a Russian expat in the U.S. told me that 75% of Russians are behind him because things are much better than they were in the former Soviet Union, and he offered the fact that now when a dad goes to work in the morning there's no risk that he won't return home, which was what life was like in the former Soviet Union, but that doesn't mean the IOC should.  But the IOC has buried more bodies in worse places, I'm sure.

Perhaps I wouldn't have asked the question if I didn't know the answer, but I did and I do.  The ratings will stink, the Super Bowl drew much better in the U.S., as will the World Cup.  As for the latter, it will be much more fun to watch the likes of Messi, Neymar, Hulk, Ronaldo, Rooney, van Persie and Lukaku than someone blasting down the side of a mountain lying on his back on a flat board.

The games have begun.

Yawn.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

On the English Premiership

A few observations:

1.  Only 6 points separate 11th and 20th places.  Translated, this means that 10 teams are in the running to get related.  Eleven, if you count Stoke City, which has 27 points.  As much fun as it will be to watch the top of the table, the true intrigue will be at the bottom.

2.  Manchester United is in serious trouble.  Okay, they have been for a while, but the return of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney did nothing to prevent Stoke City from beating them for the first time in the Premiership and for the first time since 1984.   Seems like many squads might end streaks versus Man U this year.

3.  Some observers had noted that Arsenal couldn't make a move during the January transfer window as important as simply getting their squad healthy and getting both Lucas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain back.  Well, they'll miss Aaron Ramsey (who had gotten off to a great start) and Theo Walcott (who had played great after missing a lot of time), but they should get Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs back soon.  Atop that, they have both Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the latter had a great game today, scoring two goals against Crystal Palace and cementing his future in the center of the field (and not on the wing).  Ox is one of the best young players out there, and he made a great difference for the Gunners today.

4.  How are Tottenham 6th in the table and have a minus one goal differential?

5.  Could it be that the top 3 will be Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal, with the others -- Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham and United vying for fourth?  The duo of Lucina Traore and Romelu Lukaku at striker for Everton should make them very tough, while Luis Suarez has played great for Liverpool (who still seems a bit challenged when compared to the teams atop the table).  You can argue that both City and Chelsea have more talent than Arsenal, but the Gunners are doing what it takes and surviving injury after injury, revealing a depth of character with many different lineups.

6.  Overlooked amidst Transfer Deadline Day deals or the lack thereof was the Euro 12.5 deal between Chelsea and Ligue 1's St. Etienne that sends 19 year-old defender Kurt Zouma to Chelsea (although he'll remain on loan at St. Etienne until year's end).  Zouma could be another stellar center back for Chelsea, and along with the likes of Lukaku (who, presumably, should get serious time at striker at Stamford Bridge next year), could help form part of the foundation of the next generation of Chelsea.

7.  Are the officials letting defenders mug offensive players in the box now?  Palace's Jedinak almost had a choke hold on Arsenal's Giroud today during a set piece, and referee didn't even whistle a foul.  What's amazing in soccer is that player's don't come up swinging after certain fouls, but they might if this type of play does not draw a card every now and then.

Super Blowout

A funny thing happened en route to the final coronation of Peyton Manning. . .

Someone forgot to tell the Seahawks not to show up playing all of offense, defense and special teams.  I write this right after the second half started, when Percy Harvin returned the kickoff for a touchdown.

As much as the haters and doubters will offer that Peyton "choked," quite frankly, he's had little to do with this outcome so far.  For not only has Seattle shown up, the Broncos have not.  Not with any game, let alone their "C" game.

The weather is great at Met Life Stadium, this after the East Coast was under a deep freeze for much of two weeks and expects more snow overnight.

Players love playing for Pete Carroll.  It has shown so far tonight.