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Baseball’s Cathedrals

January 29, 2009

Being a big baseball fan, I’ve been to several ball fields throughout my life. The first one was, naturally, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minnesota. It is, honestly, an ugly ballpark but it’s like that tattered old t-shirt you keep in your closet for those special days. You can’t seem to let it go or hate it, it’s just a part of your life that you don’t want to lose. Like I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, it grew on me and I will never forget the memories that were created there growing up.

Once I grew up and went on vacations with my family and took some journeys myself, I’ve been able to visit several other ballparks and experienced what they have to offer. So I thought I would share some of my thoughts, since Spring Training is only 3 weeks away (Whoooo!).

Personally, I like the old-time stadiums myself. Even though they can be cramped, outdated, have only 4 bathroom stalls in the whole park, funky smells. But what they DO have is the authentic smell of a ballpark, the grass, the dirt, the leather, the beer, the peanuts, and the hot dogs. That, to me, is the essence of a ballpark. When I go to games, I want to feel like I went back in time, to a much simpler life where it’s all about enjoying the game. Old stadiums have all those smells, and they also have the history of the parks. If only the walls/seats could talk, imagine the stories they would tell.

Nowadays, there’s been a huge boom of new ballparks being built all around the country. I cannot argue with the economics of doing that, as new parks do attract new fans for the added spectacle, with those 100 foot HD scoreboards and the flashing lights circling the stadiums. Granted, it’s more accessible, bigger concourses, more pro shops, more bathrooms, more entertainment for the unpure baseball fan. But to me, it feels FAKE, like they’re trying to sell the game to me, saying, “lookee here, it’s fun, we got games for you, bigger food, bigger candy, bigger toys..”. It all feels forced onto me and I end up staring around the park, feeling distracted and unable to focus on the game itself. It takes away from the experience of the game itself. Baseball is not a game meant to be played in a rushed fashion, it’s a slow game and I think the new stadium owners feel compelled to keep the unpure fan captivated and I don’t blame them, after all they need their cash.

Which is why, 4 of my 5 favorite ballparks are of another Era, although one is sadly, disappearing into a parking lot. In order, they are…

Fenway Park

Fenway Park - Boston, MA - Boston Red Sox

Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field - Chicago, IL - Chicago Cubs

Kauffman Stadium

Kauffman Stadium- Kansas City, MO - Kansas City Royals

Camden Yards

Camden Yards - Baltimore, MD - Baltimore Orioles

Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium - Bronx, NY - New York Yankees

I’m not being biased by picking Fenway Park first, I’ve been there and it was pure joy when I first walked into the park on a sunny Saturday afternoon with my family. The first thing I noticed was the smell, it contained everything I mentioned above. It felt like baseball heaven. I hope to spend my netherworld life there, with my woman beside me, a hotdog in one hand and a cold Budweiser in the other, watching all the legends play for bragging rights day after day.

Wrigley Field is nearly as good as Fenway Park, but it’s just too darn windy for me.

Kauffman Stadium reminds me of the cornfield in “Field of Dreams”, where it’s all about the game and none of the flashy BS.

Camden Yards is not old by any standards, it’s new (opened in 1993). But when I first went a couple of years later, I was expecting a bling bling stadium, but it felt like an old park, with the warehouse in right field and the brick facade. It is one of the most enjoyable parks to watch a game, I’ve been to quite a few and still go there in the summers.

Now, Yankee Stadium, as much as it hurts me to say it, it really is one of the special stadiums in baseball. Can you imagine how many games it has seen within its confines. Babe Ruth’s mammoth homers, DiMaggio’s hit-streak, Gehrigh’s games-played streak, Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game and more… I have a passionate hate for the Yankees, but what they have is unparalleled in the history of sports arenas/ballparks/stadiums and it’s just a shame that they decided to tear it down, all in the name of Benjamin Franklins. Pathetic, throwing away their temple.  (But heehee, the so called mystical Aura of Yankee Stadium will forever be gone!)

So there it is, I do wonder about the new fields and the history that will eventually accumulate in them. Target Field, CitiField, the new Yankee Stadium, Citizens Bank Ballpark, Comerica Field, SBC Park, Coors Field and on forth. Will I look back one day when I’m 75 and will Fenway still rank #1 on my list?

Only time will tell…

~Runteldat~

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The ONLY Airness there ever will be…

December 16, 2008

Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James have one thing in common… they’ve all been dubbed the “Next Michael Jordan” at one point in their lives. And there will be more young phenoms with that label thrust upon them.

It’s safe to say that none of the above have lived up to that tag, not because they weren’t skilled or were busts in the NBA. It’s simply because there will never be another Michael Jordan.

“By acclamation, Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time.”—Introductory line of Jordan’s NBA Encyclopedia biography

As if the above quote is not enough to summarize Jordan’s excellency in the pantheons of NBA greats, I guess I will share some statistics:

Led the NBA in scoring in 10 seasons (NBA record)

Holds the top career and playoff scoring averages of 30.1 and 33.4 points per game

Jordan’s total of 5,987 points in the playoffs is the highest in NBA history

With five regular-season MVP’s (tied for second all-time)

Six Finals MVP’s (NBA record)

Three All-Star MVP’s

Michael was known for his fierce competitiveness, and intense desire to win. It was made most apparent the day he punched a teammate in practice, because he demands the best not only from himself, but out of everyone on his team.

His unwillingness to lose has made many memorable moments, from his game-winning jumper as a Freshman at UNC in the NCAA Championship game, to his buzzer-beater jump shot in 1989 to beat Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Semis, to his 1997 performance in the NBA finals when he was stricken with the flu and still managed to score 38 points including the game-deciding three-pointer with under a minute remaining, to his final shot as a Chicago Bull in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals where he drained a shot that gave the Bulls the lead and their 6th NBA Championship.

There were also countless Jordan moments that are too long to list here. His dazzling skills on the court were unmatched by anyone in the history of the NBA. Sure, LeBron might have better jumps, Kobe might have a better scoring touch, or whoever else… but none of them had the ENTIRE package of skills Jordan had.

Which leads to my request, err… rather more of an order, please STOP saying there will be a next Jordan, because there never will be. PERIOD.

From North Carolina… at 6’6″, Guard… Number 23… MICHAEL JORDAN!

His Airness

His Airness

~Runteldat~

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BCS= Championship or Flop?

December 10, 2008

Do you like the Super Bowl playoffs, the World Series, the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Finals, the NCAA March Madness tourney, the Little League World Series, the College World Series??? Of course you do! It’s one of the best things about sports, the annual tournament at the end of the season, to determine the ultimate champion.

Every major collegiate sport has a playoff system in place for the year-end tournaments to determine the rightful champion of that specific sport… EXCEPT for Division-1 college football. WHY???

Even Division-1A, Division-2, and Division-3 football have major playoff/tournaments to crown their championship teams. Appalachian State has won the Division 1-A tournament 3 straight times, but missed their chance of making the championship game this year for a possible 4 straight championships. Mount Union out of Ohio has won 9 Division-3 National Championships in the last 15 years! How amazing would it be to see, say… Notre Dame win 4 straight National Championships? Pretty amazing, but alas it will never happen because of one reason…

MONEY.

The real reason there is no College Football tournament for Division-1 football is because under the current BCS system, the schools and TV stations are making silly amounts of dollars from having their teams in the current BCS system. A team from any of the major Conferences can make anywhere from 1 million to 2.8 million just for appearing in one of the four BCS bowl games. Now if a playoff system was installed, then the probability of a school making as much money under the old system would be diminished, not just because the field would be more wide open to upsets, but the BCS bowl games would lose their luster/history. Less sponsorships would go to the quarterfinals/semifinals, and instead would be allocated to the Championship game only.

I can see why the schools and Conference honchos would rather not have a playoff system, but with so many disagreements and controversies regarding the true #1 team year-in, year-out… wouldn’t it be so much better for the players and fans themselves to settle it on the field once and for all?

This year’s championship game will pit the Oklahoma Sooners vs. the Florida Gators. Nothing is wrong with that scenario, but there is also a glut of teams with the qualifications to be in the championship game. Texas Longhorns, Alabama Crimson Tide, USC Trojans, Utah Utes, Texas Tech Red Raiders, and the Penn State Nittany Lions,  all are in the top 8 of the BCS Poll and the Associated Press rankings. Now imagine a 8 team playoff over three weeks, I can guarantee there would be many memorable games down the stretch.

Even though the teams/conferences might lose money, but I think for the fans and players’ sakes, there should be a NCAA Division-1 Bowl Tournament Series (anyone can come up with a better title?), because it would provide many thrills for years to come…

~Runteldat~

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The Legacy at Krzyzewskiville…

November 22, 2008

In the college world, there is probably no other team that fans love to hate more than the Duke University Blue Devils mens basketball team. I don’t really know why people love to hate Duke, I guess it’s similar to the way people hate the New York Yankees, because they just seem to keep winning and fans get tired of seeing the Blue Devils in March.

Haters aside, let me explain why the Blue Devils are regarded as one of the best college basketball programs around and it all begins with this man, Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Known as Coach K, he was an assistant for one year under the legendary Bob Knight at Indiana University, then coached his alma mater, West Point, for 5 years before landing the job at Duke University in 1980. Ever since he arrived in Durham, North Carolina, he has established a winning program that has helped him accumulate 803 career wins, only the sixth coach to amass over 800 career wins in college basketball. He is roughly 100 wins away from supplanting Bob Knight as the winningest coach in history, which many predict will happen.

He has won three NCAA Tournament Championships (1991, 1992 and 2001), ten ACC Conference Tournament Championships, and eleven ACC Conference Regular Season Championships. Among those accomplishments, he has also developed a bevy of excellent college basketball players that have also succeeded in the NBA in various aspects. Here are some well known players that have played at Duke and in the NBA; Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng, and Jason Williams.

His accomplishments at Duke have been so admired that the Duke administration named the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Coach K Court, in his honor. Also, the grassy area outside of Cameron has been named Krzyzewskiville which has its own set of traditions and rules (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krzyzewskiville).

I have been a fan of Duke basketball ever since 1990 even though they lost by 30 points to UNLV in the NCAA Championship game, I was fascinated by Coach K and his squad, how they seemed to get on everybody’s nerves with their hard-nosed playing and aggressiveness. The next year Duke won their first NCAA championship and I was thrilled to have seen them win. The following year was even better as Duke successfully defended their title. However, that season the best game was not the championship game, rather it was the Eastern Regional Final, versus Kentucky when the biggest shot in college basketball was made.

Let me set up the scene for you… It was overtime and Duke called a timeout with 2.1 seconds to play. Coach K drew up a play that called for Grant Hill to heave a long pass to to the top of the key where it would go to Christian Laettner and he would have 2.1 seconds to dish or attempt to shoot the ball. Here’s what happened…

It ended a magical night for Christian Laettner, who was perfect from the field that evening. 10-10 in field goal attempts, and 10-10 in free throw attempts. I was in Florida with my family on spring break and visiting Disney World, and I remember watching the game in the hotel room with my sister while my parents went out to pick up dinner for us. I was jumping up and down on the bed with my sister screaming at me to shut up!

Duke basketball will always be reviled as long as Coach K and his gang shake the world at Cameron Stadium. I have a feeling I will see a few more NCAA Championships before Coach K turns the lights out in his office for the last time.

Fight! Fight, Blue Devils
Fight for the White and Blue
March on through
There’s a slam dunk there for you,
Go get ’em!
Duke is out to win today
Carolina go to hell!
So turn on the steam, team,

Fight! Blue Devils, Fight!
(clap clap clap) Go!
(clap clap clap) Go!
Rip ’em up, tear ’em up! Give ’em hell, Duke!
(clap clap clap) Go!
(clap clap clap) Go!

Rip ’em up, tear ’em up! Give ’em hell, Duke!
Here in Durham town
There’s a university
And tonight those tower bells of Duke
Will ring out merrily.
See that old Blue Devil smoke
Arising to the sky.
There’s something doing, there’s vict’ry brewing,
Don’t you hear that battle cry.

GO BLUE DEVILS!

~Runteldat~

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Canada or Russia?

November 20, 2008

In the NHL and around the world, it’s generally known that the best hockey players come from either Canada or Russia. I had a debate with a friend a while ago about the best players and where they’re from. So I decided to do some research and tried to find the best modern hockey players from each country since 1990 to now. Here are the players I found (in alphabetical order within each country)… I will leave it up to you to decide which country boasts the better talent.

CANADA:

Wayne Gretzky- known as the Great One, no further explanation needed. Scored 894 career goals in 20 seasons.

Wayne Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky

Mario Lemieux- probably regarded as the best right-handed shooter in NHL history, known for his size and fluid skating skills as well as his puck handling. Scored 690 career goals in 17 seasons.

Mario Lemieux

Mario Lemieux

Joe Sakic- has one of the most feared wrist-shots, so powerful he can score from above the key, usually scored when goalies were least expecting him to shoot because he was so far out. Scored 625 career goals in 20 seasons.

Joe Sakic

Joe Sakic

Steve Yzerman- one of the toughest and most intense leaders on the ice, always found a way to score especially in crucial moments. Scored 692 career goals in 22 seasons.

Steve Yzerman

Steve Yzerman

RUSSIA:

Pavel Bure- known as the Russian Rocket, terrorized opponents with his mach-3 speed and excellent puck-handling skills. Scored 436 career goals in 12 seasons.

Pavel Bure

Pavel Bure

Sergei Fedorov- probably the NHL’s best Russian player in terms of longevity and efficiency. Special knack for scoring. Scored 476 career goals in 18 seasons.

Sergei Fedorov

Sergei Fedorov

Alexander Mogilny- a lesser known star, but a goal scoring machine nonetheless. Scored 473 career goals in 16 seasons.

Alexander Mogilny

Alexander Mogilny

Alexander Ovechkin- probably the league’s most exciting and talented scoring phenom right now. Scored 171 goals in 4 seasons.

Alexander Ovechkin

Alexander Ovechkin

Only Sakic, Fedorov and Ovechkin are still playing in the NHL this season. Again, this was an attempt to find the best players in the modern era from 1990 and forth. There have been some older players who were as good as the ones listed, but I don’t have enough data or experience watching them, so I don’t feel I would do them justice by listing them here.

Now let’s see what the readers think, which country has produced the better talent?

~Runteldat~

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A hockey haven in the middle of nowhere…

November 18, 2008

What do Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise, Jordan Parise, and Sidney Crosby have in common?

They are all former students of a private high school in southern Minnesota known for it’s hockey program, Shattuck St. Mary’s. The school is a college preparatory boarding school with an emphasis on excellence in the fields of ice hockey, soccer, figure skating and the arts. (www.s-sm.org)

Shattuck is widely known across the country as one of the top youth hockey programs, if not the best. It’s so praised that the Great One, Wayne Gretzky’s son attends the school now.

Here are some pictures of some current NHL players who attended Shattuck:

Jonathan Toews- Chicago Blackhawks

Jonathan Toews- Chicago Blackhawks

Kyle Okposo- New York Islanders

Kyle Okposo- New York Islanders

Zach Parise- New Jersey Devils

Zach Parise- New Jersey Devils

Sidney Crosby- Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby- Pittsburgh Penguins

As you can see, the list is pretty impressive, especially seeing how well Sidney did in his only year at Shattuck… Sid the Kid had 72 goals and 162 points in 57 games, which is even more stunning considering Shattuck’s coach Tom Ward used four lines consistently and refused to give out extra ice time to any kids, reinforcing his team-first philosophy.

So if you have kids and they have grand dreams of someday playing NCAA Division-1 college hockey or the NHL, and you have $35,000 to shell out per year for your son/daughter’s education & hockey growth, there’s no better place to send the kid than to Shattuck St. Mary’s.

After all, if they make it big in the NHL, they can always pay you back for your love…

~Runteldat~

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Yankees and their wallet…

November 17, 2008

In the world of professional sports, no team has the financial resources of the New York Yankees nor the financial freedom to sign as many players for as much as they would like to pay them. Other sports teams are bound by salary caps or in small-market cities that generate little revenue.

After seeing the unofficial reports that the Yankees have offered C.C. Sabathia a six year contract for $140 million, which averages out to $23.3 million dollars a year, it just blew my mind how much the Yankees are willing to spend. Not that I didn’t think they would offer C.C. a king’s ransom, but the fact that they continue to spend so much money in an effort to sign the best players out there (Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Carl Pavano, Roger Clemens, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson) to name a few. Their thinking is that if they can buy the best players out there, they should be winning World Championships every year. No one has proved that thinking to be so wrong better than the Yankees since 2000. They have spent over 1.2 BILLION DOLLARS since 2000 in an effort to become World Champs once again, only to be ousted in the playoffs every year until 2008, when they didn’t EVEN MAKE the playoffs.

It amazes me how they can continue to think that this strategy works in the ultra-parity world of Major League Baseball. Since the Yankees lost in the 2001 World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks, there have been 7 different Champions; Diamondbacks, Angels, Marlins, Red Sox, White Sox, Cardinals, and Phillies. Baseball today is full of stat-head General Managers such as Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics who understand that winning baseball is about key statistics, generating runs, rock-solid pitching, and most of all… Team Chemistry.

The Yankees are a team of high-salaried stars who only care about the statisics or personal fame they generate. None of them have a sense of urgency except for their Captain, Derek Jeter. But even the legendary captain has not been able to escape criticism for not being able to light a fire under the other players. Baseball insiders say that the Yankees clubhouse is very detached, none of that buddy-buddy, brotherhood of hard-nosed players who just want to win. The players don’t hang out together after games, go out for a steak and beer, take in a music show. They all go their own separate ways. So how is a team who is that distanced expected to win year in, year out?

As shown by previous World Series winners, they key to winning is to create a team that has a bond, common struggles, common goals, and a burning desire to prove to everyone that they want to be the best. The Yankees have too many over-paid players who take their days and paychecks for granted.

If the Yankees brass wants to win, they should take a real long hard look at the original dynasty of the 1996-2000 Yankees and see that this was a team of chemistry, a team who wanted to win so badly they would play for free, who won relying on each other and creating that bond. It’s safe to say that they got their hands in the cookie bowl and wanted more, thinking that they could recreate those glory days by buying the best players available.

So, my advice to Brian Cashman (Yankees General Manager) and Hank Steinbrenner (the owner), they should not sign C.C. Sabathia and instead spend that $140 million in search for a few hard-nosed players who would teach the Yankees the value of playing hard nonetheless of their paychecks. If they do that, then they just might win a World Series before their core of stars gets too old.

And it’s not the end of the world if you don’t win a World Series every year… just ask the Chicago Cubs who have an immensely loyal fan base, and they haven’t won a World Series since… 1908. Over a hundred years ago…

And you think life is unfair for Yankee fans who are upset they haven’t seen a parade down Broadway Street since 2000…

Poor them.

~Runteldat~