Thursday, October 03, 2019

 

The Antonio Brown Saga



Antonio Brown

I was going to write that there never has been such a turbulent start to a season of any professional sports figure. There have been some pretty wild situations, but none compared to this.


Antonio Brown is no longer affiliated with any team in the National Football League. The wide receiver, once considered the premier player in that position, is out of work. He recently played for the New England Patriots, and even scored a touchdown. But he was cut from the roster on September 20th. He may have run out of chances to play for any team.


Now 31 years old, he was born in Miami. He comes by his football talent honestly, as his father was once named, “The best player in the history of the Arena Football League”. Antonio played his high school football in Miami, then chose to play “Prep” Football at North Carolina Tech. He earned a scholarship to play at Florida International University, but was expelled before the season started, because of an “altercation with security”.


He then played at Central Michigan, and was drafted in the 6th round in 2010 by the Pittsburgh Steelers. By no means large for a football player, at less than six feet, he began working his way up the ladder to secure a spot in the starting lineup as a receiver. In 2010, he ran back punts and kickoffs. The next year, he moved up to become the third wide receiver on the team. He became the first player in NFL history to have 1000 yards receiving, and returning kicks.


In 2012, he signed a contract for $42,5 million, including an $8.5 million bonus. It was reported that he had a chip on his shoulder, even with his teammates. On one occasion he told them: “Don't touch me. I'm the franchise!” He played with the Steelers the next few years, and always gained “Pro Bowl” status each year. He had his wrist slapped by the league for wearing improper shoes ($15 000 fine), then he was nicked for another $24 000 for displaying a sexually suggestive dance after a score. Can you imagine?


Even FaceBook got in on the action, paying him $ 244 000 to “create content for live channels”.


In 2017, the Steelers signed him to another lucrative contract, $17 million over five years. Near the end of the 2018 season, Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger aired their differences, and Brown demanded a trade. He was traded to the Raiders to play this year.


He was unhappy with the new helmets that the players were required to wear. He got frost bite in California. (In one of those cryotherapy studios!). He missed several practices. The Raiders bid adieu.


On September 7, he signed a one year contract with the New England Patriots for $15 million with a $9 million signing bonus. He did play one game for the Pats, even scored a touchdown. But two weeks after signing with the team, he was shown the door. I guess he did not wish to play “The Patriots' Way”!


His career has been marred by several allegations of domestic disputes, sexual misconduct, improper texting. He may have played his last NFL game.


One of the experts on a Sunday telecast indicated that there were three teams looking into the possibility of signing Brown. Some things never cease to amaze me.


James Hurst
September 23, 2019.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

 

Simply The Best!



Much of this nation was glued to their television sets late Saturday afternoon. Bianca Andreescu was playing tennis in New York. The tournament is called the United States Open, and is one of the four major tennis tournaments held each year. The others, not necessarily in order of importance: the Australian Open, the French Open, and Wimbledon. No Canadian has ever won the title in New York, nor at any of the other major events.


After the match, Bianca summarized her thoughts. “I was feeling many, many things before the match, more than any other match. In the finals, playing Serena. I just tried to breathe as much as I could from the moment I woke up until the match. I tried to do that throughout the whole match, to keep my nerves in place.”


I have been following tennis quite carefully since the 1950s, since the days that I grew up in Belleville across the street from St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. There were a couple of courts, with fences, in constant use.


There are many nuances to the game. To compete at the highest level, one must be very fit, very fast, and prepared for almost anything that your opponent might have in store for you.


On Saturday, Andreescu played the final of The Open against Serena Williams, the best female tennis player ever to pick up a racket. Certainly part of Serena's game is to intimidate her opponents. She does that with her size, her agility, and her power. Understandably, as an American, she also had the support of the crowd of more than 20 000 fans cheering for her. “Who is this little Canadian upstart?”, they asked of each other while the ladies warmed up for the match.


Soon it became apparent that Andreescu was not to be pushed around. She won the first set, quite convincingly. She powered the ball back over the net to Williams, often catching her flat-footed. She served well, and caught the lines for winning shots.


She continued to play well in the second set, building up a lead of five games to one. With only four points, she would become the champion! As we witnessed, Serena was not about to concede. She won the next four games, convincingly, to tie the set. Serena just needed a small opportunity to get back into the match. It appeared as if she would take the second set, to set up a third and final set for the trophy. Many of Bianca's fans cringed, as Serena powered her way to tie the set.


At that point, the Canadian teenager stunned the crowd at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, and, dare I say, millions of tennis fans around the world, by winning the next two games, quite handily, to win 7-5.


That was certainly one of the greatest accomplishments in Canadian sports history. This is not a team game. It involved this chubby-cheeked youngster from Toronto, facing the queen of tennis. As a nation, we have reached the pinnacle in hockey, on many occasions. Mike Weir won the Masters some years ago. Donovan Bailey raced to win the premier event at the Olympics. Many Canadians have done very well in Winter Olympic events.


This has been my dream. There are so many emotions going through my body right now. It's really hard to describe”, she said just moments after her win. A dream of all Canadian tennis fans, of all Canadians.


A great day for tennis, a great day for Canada!!


James Hurst.
September 9, 2019.
-- 
James Hurst
613.399.2278
sportslices.blogspot.ca


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

 

Justin Verlander's Magnificent Day





The Toronto Blue Jays decided early in the season that the best way to put bums in the seats, to keep the fans entertained, would be to put the rookies on the field. For the most part, that is has been successful. Vladimir Guerrero Junior had an immediate impact on the team. He inherited some of the free-swinging, maybe it's a strike, (maybe it isn't), style from his father. With his colourful dreads, and engaging smile, he has captivated the fans in Toronto.


Bo" Bichette has also ignited the team. His early batting exploits were nothing short of remarkable, knocking the cover off the ball. He tied or broke several records, stroking pitches for extra base hits. And he has continued to hit the ball, even in the face of all of the analysis used by the opposition to set him down. His batting average has remained above the .300 mark, a good sign for things to come.


Cavan Biggio is the third member of a trio of children of former major-leaguers to fill the lineup spots for the Jays this season. He has remarkable “pop” in his bat, and parks home runs in the bleacher seats, sometimes unexpectedly.


Throw in a host of other young talent, and you have the nucleus of a fine baseball team down the road. The problem the Blue Jays face, of course, is that the talent they have developed needs to stay the course. (Did someone mention the name Kawhi Leonard? The Raptors did not develop his talent from his college years, but his loss will be felt for many years in Toronto.)


The Houston Astros have a powerful team-great pitching, and great hitting. Taking the mound last week for one of the games against the Jays was their ace: Justin Verlander. His pitching performance against the Jays was nothing short of magnificent. Only one Jay reached base, with a base on balls; near perfection, and he entered the dugout after the game with his second no-hitter against the Jays.


Only five other pitchers in Major League Baseball have thrown 3 no-hitters: Nolan Ryan (7), Sandy Koufax(4), Bob Feller(3), Cy Young (3), and Larry Corcoran (3). Please excuse me for not recalling much about Mr. Corcoran. But the other fellas on that list have plaques in the Hall of Fame. Verlander will have his induction five years after he bids adieu to the game.


Verlander struck out 14 Jays, and he has struck out 104 batters since the All Star break, leading the Majors.


Many pitchers have entered the ninth inning entertaining the prospect of pitching a no-hitter, only to be thwarted by a blooping single, usually off the bat of an unknown player. Verlander had done that on two previous occasions. Baseball has an undefined rule that no one is to communicate with a pitcher in the dugout when it appears he might be on the verge of tossing a “No no”.


With two out in the ninth, the Astros' pitching coach approached the mound, to settle Verlander as best he could. Verlander had been staked with a two run lead in the top of the ninth with a home run off a very unlikely bat: Abraham Toro. Called up recently from the minors, the native of Longueuil, Quebec, had his second home run of his career at a very opportune time for the Astros.


Verlander's last pitch was struck, fielded at third by Toro, and tossed to first for the final out. Velander jumped in the air several times. He hugged anyone that got near him, showing the emotion which is great to see in veteran players.


He is now 17-5 on the season, with a good chance of reaching the 20 game plateau. He has 221 wins in his career, and at 36, he still has plenty of gas in his tank.


I hope you stayed up late Monday night to watch Bianca Andreescu's win at the US Open. She defeated a young American. Naturally, the deck was stacked against her: the fans, the announcers, maybe even the ushers. No matter. When it came to great tennis, she was there!


And yes, the NFL starts Thursday night.


-- 
James Hurst
613.399.2278
sportslices.blogspot.ca


Saturday, August 31, 2019

 

Rogers Cup-Toronto 2019


As has been widely reported, especially on our side of the border, a teenager from Toronto won the Rogers Cup tennis championship last Sunday. Bianca Andreescu worked her way through opponents to get to the finals.


She walked on the court at York University, accompanied by a flower girl and another carrying a Canadian flag. She waved at the packed house, but heard very little from the spectators as she was wearing headphones. Moments later, her opponent appeared, also in impressive fashion. Serena Williams, the greatest woman tennis player of all time, sauntered from the lower levels of the stadium, with her flower girl and flag holder.


In fine Canadian fashion, a couple of Mounties accompanied the anthem singer, now starring in “Come From Away” in Toronto. A coin toss, more photo opportunities, warm up rallies , serves, and smashes, and the games began.


The day was sunny, with a pronounced breeze. The wind was much stronger on Friday and Saturday, affecting the play: awkward ball tosses on serves, lobs that carried beyond the base line, cross-court forehands that landed outside the lines.


Because of the international flavour of tennis, there was a strong contingent of Romanian-Canadians in the crowd. Flags, shirts, posters, all in support of Andreescu. Her mother and father sat at courtside, along with her her tiny dog! Both Briana and her dad had done interviews for Romanian television. With competitors from around the world, media types reporting in many languages attend the World Tennis Association championships.


Serena came into the final with 72 career titles including 23 Grand Slam Championships. In previous matches, her serve topped 190 km per hour. Both forehand and backhand strokes can be winners, any given rally. Bianca serves at 175 kph, give or take. Mind you, she is not yet twenty, so I expect that she will hammer her serves considerably faster in the future.


For the most part, Andreescu pounds her ground strokes. She often bends quite low, and springs into her forehands and backhands. When convenient, she will approach the net. Throughout the week she played some nifty drop shots as well.


In order to get to the final, Bianca disposed of the following: Eugenie Bouchard, Canada: Daria Kasatkina, Russia; Kiki Bertens, the Netherlands; Karolina Pliskova, Czech Republic; and Sofia Kenin, United States. It took more than 10 hours to accomplish that. All of those matches went three sets, with the exception of her semi-final against Kenin.


Andreescu moved up dramatically in the tennis rankings from # 27 to # 14.


Williams had won the Toronto tournament three times. She raves about the city on all occasions. “I love coming here,” she told the crowd after he semi-final win. Near the end of her match, she stumbled while pursuing a drop shop and banged into the court post. When asked about it, she shrugged and said, “You gotta take the hits and keep going. It just burns a little bit.” As the elder stateswoman in the mix, she called herself the “Tennis Grandma.”


Had she been on her game, it would have been an exciting final. Not to be, on this occasion. Serena withdrew after trailing 3-1 in the first set. A little more than 18 minutes of tennis for the disappointed patrons. She indicated after he match that she had been experiencing back spasms.


Andreescu had been on the sidelines herself, nursing a shoulder injury. Obviously, she put that aside when she walked on the court in Toronto. “I'm happy to be back on the court.” And she reminded us, unintentionally, that she is still a kid when she blurted out, “Life is freaking amazing right now!”


Rafael Nadal won the men's tournament in Montreal. The tour moves on, and will arrive in New York soon for the United States Open. More great tennis on the horizon. Not to be missed!


James Hurst
August 12, 2019
-- 
James Hurst
613.399.2278
sportslices.blogspot.ca


 

Golf-Canadian Women's Open 2019


Brooke Henderson may have a problem with Tim Hortons Restaurants. Last weekend she tied for third at the CP Women's Open at the Magna Golf Club near Toronto. She played really well, and put a scare into the leaders on Saturday with a 29 on the back nine.


After all was said and done, Jin Young Ko from South Korea won the championship. The week before the tournament, she was having trouble deciding whether or not she would make the trip from her home to the tournament. Two things helped her to make the decision. “I like Canada, and I like ice cappuccino,” she declared after the tournament. You know where she lines up to buy that product!


As a fine gesture, Brooke strolled the final fairway to the 18th green, arm in arm with Ko. She knew she would not be able to catch Ko. “She's the world's Number One player for a reason. She has had an unreal season. She has four wins on one of the toughest tours there is. To get one is hard. To get four is really cool”.


Ko pulled away from the rest of the field with six birdies on the back nine. Her winning score of 26 under par is a new CP Women's Open Tournament record. She has played the last 106 holes without carding a bogey. She has positioned herself well as the # 1 golfer in the “Race to the CME Globe”, with one million American dollars as the prize.


Nicole Broch Larsen, from Denmark, finished second. That was her best LPGA Tour finish, by five strokes. Lizette Salas tied with Brooke for third place. Henderson was awarded the Sandra Post Medal as the Canadian with the lowest score. Anne-Catherine Tanguay, another Canadian in the field, was tied with Brooke after shooting a 66 on the first day. She faded as the tournament continued, but did finish 6 under par. Picton's Casey Ward also competed in the tournament.


One of the fine features of major tournaments concerns the amount of money that is raised for charitable causes. Almost $2.5 million was raised at the event. The majority of the funds was directed to an upgrading of a Cardiac Operating Suite at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.

Another Canadian, Corey Connors, from Listowel, Ontario, was involved in the Men's PGA event. He was one of thirty players who qualified to play in the FedEx Championship, with $60 million in prize money. Rory McIlroy played the last few holes in fine fashion, picking up $15 million in winning the tournament. He sunk a few birdie putts on the back nine, accompanied by a few fist pumps.


Canadian Football League fans in Toronto and Vancouver are looking for a quick turnaround as they prepare for the second half of the season. Quarterbacks on both those teams should be entitled to danger pay.


The United States Tennis Open got underway on Monday. Serena Williams was in fine form destroying Maria Sharapova in the first round. Canada's Jeannie Bouchard fell in straight sets, her 12th loss in a row.


The Blue Jays limped home after their western road trip. The games in Seattle are always fun, with a large contingent of fans wearing the colours, causing a ruckus. The development process continues, but it will be a long one!! You knew that!


James Hurst
August 27, 2019










-- 
James Hurst
613.399.2278
sportslices.blogspot.ca


 

Jacklyn Hooey-Lacrosse PlaYER



I must confess that I am always on the lookout for a great story, especially one that just lands in front of me. That is the case for this particular column.





My wife and I were doing a short tour of “The County”, and decided on lunch at Lake of the Mountain. I imagine I have visited that area hundreds of times, and yet I am continually fascinated by the area. The vista from the top of the “mountain” is spectacular, including the coming and going of the Glenora Ferry.





Lunch was excellent, and our server, Jacklyn Hooey, took good care of us. In fact, once I had asked the usual questions, I knew I had a column in the bag. She was spending her summer in the area, but had finished her first year at Colgate University, and was returning there in the fall.





Jacklyn attended M.J. Hobbs Public School near Toronto, and played every sport imaginable while she was there. She particularly enjoyed badminton and volleyball. She then moved on to Holy Trinity School in Courtice.





When she was 11 years old, she developed a great interest in lacrosse. She played for the Oshawa Blue Knights, under coach Rob Dyment. Part of her interest in the sport came from her older brother Garrett. He went on to become a fine hockey player, and spent a couple of years with the Belleville Bulls.





Jacklyn spent many hours practising the skills required to play the game effectively with her brother and her good friend Julie Cryderman. Julie was an accomplished lacrosse player, and was pursuing a spot on the Canadian National team.





Jacklyn entered Grade Eleven at the Hill Academy in Vaughan, an institution that specializes in developing athletes. She focused on lacrosse, with the intent of obtaining an NCAA scholarship at an American college or university. She had the opportunity to travel throughout the States at that time, under the watchful eyes of scouts and coaches from the American schools.





Her “Blue Knights” team won the provincial championship five times. While still in high school, she played on Team Ontario, and won the Canadian Championship twice. She was on a short list to become a member of the national Team, but was the last cut. She is using that disappointment to motivate herself to make that team in the future.





This fall, she will begin her second year of studies at Colgate. She is the only Canadian on the team, and was fortunate to earn a position as a starter last year. She played in al 18 league games, and led the school's freshmen in scoring, with 15 goals and 3 assists.




Colgate plays in the “Patriot League”. Other teams in the league include: Lehigh, Bucknell, Army, North American University, Holy Cross, Navy, Loyola, Boston U., and Cornell. Last year the team played Mercer in Georgia. Prior to signing with Colgate, she visited “about ten schools” when she was being recruited.





Jacklyn told me she normally plays as a “midfielder', but that she tried out as an “attacker”because her mobility was limited, due to a broken foot.





She comes by her interest in sports naturally. Her mom played all sports in high school, and her dad also played in the Ontario Hockey League with Oshawa and Windsor.





Jacklyn heads off to school in a week, and classes begin on August 27th.





For many years, I was led to believe that lacrosse was Canada's national sport, coming from an edict in the House of Commons. Not so sure about that; however, it is a great game that thrives in a few areas in Ontario (Oshawa and Peterborough, in particular), and in British Columbia.





Continued success, Jacklyn!!



James Hurst

August 15, 2019.

-- 
James Hurst
613.399.2278
sportslices.blogspot.ca


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

 

Cooperstown Part Two


                     Babe Ruth and friends. An original Inductee to the Baseball Hall of Fame



Last week I noted the names of the inductees for this year, as well as a note or two about “Doc” Halladay. What I failed to do, miserably, was capture the essence of the weekend. Now is my chance to rectify that error.


Cooperstown is a village that lies in the rambling hills of New York State, on the shores of Otsego Lake. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is in the heart of town, near the Susquehanna River. The induction ceremony takes place just south of the main village, on a very large field beside the Clark Sports Center. Large enough to take care of 70 000 fans, and room for more.


There is a Farmers' Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum on Route 80, just north of town. The village gets its name from James Fenimore Cooper, noted American author, best known for his novel, “Last of the Mohicans”.


Main Street is the prime focus for the induction weekend. The street is lined with shops of all description, sports memorabilia and a few craft shops. There are plenty of food vendors and restaurants, with reasonably priced fare. After all, a hot dog or two goes with the territory, does it not? There are several tents as well, and under the tents and awnings, you will find a variety of baseball personality.


Most of them are signing autographs for fans, at a price. But they will also pose for photos, shake your hand, and take some time to chat. I had a wonderful chat with Jesse Barfield, who was situated under a piece of tarp beside Bill Madlock on Main Street. He was delighted to meet Canadian fans. Despite the fact that Doc Halladay was being inducted, there were very few Blue Jay hats and jerseys in the village. I chatted briefly with Tommy Lasorda, who was having a great time entertaining fans. Darryl Strawberry was also most affable, and wanted to chat about his days visiting Montreal. He was seated with a former teammate who was a rookie when Strawberry played. He attempted to stifle Straw's comments about rookie activities on Ste. Catharine Street.


Lou Piniella strolled by while we were having lunch at an outdoor patio. He was taking care of an important call on his cell phone. Ferguson Jenkins was signing his book in one of the shops. Rollie Fingers sat in the shade, scribbling his name for those who wished to pay.


The second most important event of the weekend is the parade of inductees. More than fifty Hall of Famers participated in the parade. Beautiful Ford trucks carried the players, and their families. Unfortunately, there was a storm on the horizon. All of the players and their families sat in the cabs of the vehicles, even though we did not experience one drop of rain. I am pretty sure I saw Roberto Alomar's left hand. We were situated on the wrong side of the street. There were some angry fans on our side of the street, having waited four hours or more for the procession.


There were activities at Doubleday Field, named after Abner Doubleday, the American who founded the game in the United States. There are folk around Beachburg, Ontario, who have other thoughts about the location of the first game ever to be played. Last May, the field hosted the 11th edition of the Hall of Fame Classic game. That would have been a treat to watch. The game was a match between Team Rollie Fingers and Team Goose (Gossage). Coaches for the game were Alan Trammell, Bert Blyleven, Trevor Hoffman, and Tim Raines. The game ended in a tie, after seven innings.


Orlando Cabrera won the Bob Feller Player of the Game award. “I can't believe it! I hit a home run!” he announced after the game. He ended his career in 2011, and this was the first occasion his daughters, now 7 and 5, were able to see him play. “It was nice for them to see me in uniform. They hear people talking about me, so it's nice for them to see it”.


I recommend visiting the Museum and Hall of Fame during the year, especially if you are not fond of crowds.


And now it's time for tennis, as the Rogers Cup is underway in Toronto and Montreal. Lucky for us, the best tennis players in the world make a trip to Canada, but once a year.


James Hurst
August 5, 2019

 

Cooperstown 2019


One weekend a year, in the middle of the summer, the baseball world heads to Cooperstown to celebrate the greatest players ever to pull on a uniform. It is a time to celebrate the induction of the latest class to enter the Hall of Fame. But it is also a time to pay homage to the game.


This year's inductees: Mariano Rivera, Lee Smith, Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Roy Halladay. All inductees are elected, and must attain a certain percentage before they are announced to the public. Understandably, as a Canadian living near Toronto, I was pleased to see that “Doc” Halladay was to be inducted.


For those of us who followed his career when he played for the Blue Jays, it was always a thrill to get settled into a chair at the Rogers Centre, and watch him go to work. On most occasions, he was successful. There was no nonsense about his approach. All business. Walk out to the mound, look in for the sign, and deliver the ball to home plate expecting good results.


Without belabouring the point, good results came often to the big guy (Six feet, six inches) in the 12 seasons that he spent with the Jays. He won the Cy Young Award as the League's most outstanding pitcher in 2003. He also won the same award as a National League pitcher in 2010, after being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. That same year he threw a perfect game, the 20th in major league history. He also tossed a no-hitter in the playoffs against the Cincinnatti Reds.


We discovered that many of Halladay's fans from Philly are just as faithful as are his Blue Jay supporters. He was a workhorse in both cities, and he led the American League in complete games five times. He won 148 games for the Jays, and lost 76. His .661 winning percentage is still the best in the team's history.


It is against the rules for media types to ask for autographs. I have always respected that rule, but, on one occasion, I asked for an exception. It was granted by the head of the Jays' media staff, Jay Stenhouse.


My son Arty attended several Blue Jays games one particular season. He took the opportunity to get a baseball signed by the players. On the last day of the season, he lacked two signatures, naturally the most difficult to obtain: Roy Halladay, and Carlos Delgado.


With permission, I obtained Delgado's autograph. I then approached Halladay at his locker in the Blue Jays' dressing room after the final game, with some trepidation. He invited me to sit beside him. He was such a gentleman, taking the time to chat about my home town, my love of the game, and the baseball. He rolled it in his fingers, marveled at the time that it must have taken to get it signed by his teammates!


I was stunned when I read about his plane accident. I know that he would have contributed so much to his family, to his community, and to the game, had he not been killed, just over a year ago.


His plaque was installed on the wall in the Hall of Fame following the ceremony. “Doc” Hallady had entered his rightful place as one of the greats of the game.


James Hurst
July 29, 2019.



 

The Canadian Football League 2019


              One of the Greatest punt and Kickoff Returners of all Time-"Gizmo" Williams



The Canadian Football League has just completed its sixth week of play. I know I am not alone when I admit that I am a football fan. I also enjoy the National Football League from the United States.

There are many reasons why the level pf play is better in the NFL rather than the CFL. That is a given. Most of their players grow up playing football all year long, in places like California and Florida. They receive far more coaching, even in elementary school. (You might find 8 to 10 coaches on the sideline.) College football is far more important to Americans than is the game to Canadian college fans.

That is why there is an import rule in he CFL. Teams are only allowed to field a limited number of American-born players. And now we are finding Mexican-born players in the league, primarily soccer-style kickers. This is mainly because the television network, TSN, is carrying the games throughout North America and Mexico. Perhaps world-wide. I am not sure about that. Fifty years ago, Neil Armstrong might have watched the British Columbia Lions from his spacecraft before setting foot on the moon.

After five weeks of play, the Hamilton Tiger Cats Football Club has emerged as the team to beat in the East. They are 4-1, and they are enjoying spectacular play, especially from Brandon Banks.

In baseball, the most exciting base hit is a triple. With home runs, you can sit back and relax, once the ball has left the ball park. With a triple, you are on the edge of your seat, most of the time, until the runner slides safely into the base. In football, the most exciting play is a kick return. Shame on the NFL for removing most kick off returns from the game. They have instituted “touchbacks” on most return situations, supposedly to cut down on injuries. Hogwash.

Hamilton's Brandon Banks runs back kicks. If you put the ball in his hands, he will run. Last week he scored three touchdowns as the Tiger Cats defeated the Calgary Stampeders at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. His first touchdown was simply spectacular. He grabbed a missed field goal in the end zone and romped 115 yards for a touchdown. Over his career, he has returned 13 kicks for touchdowns. Elusive always, he weighs 150 pounds, just after dinner.

His effort garnered him an award as one of the top performers of the week in the CFL. He also had two receiving touchdowns in the game.

The Montreal Alouettes have surprised more than a few experts recently. They lost their first two games, but have won the next two, keeping them in second place in the league. They owe a good deal of their success to their quarterback, Vernon Adams. He also won one of the top performers awards. He passed for two touchdowns, and ran for two more, as the Als defeated the Ottawa REDBLACKS 36-19.


In a recent game between Western and Eastern teams, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers rocked the Toronto Argonauts 48-21. Toronto has yet to win a game this season. The Blue Bombers are now 4-0, and are led by Winnipeg native Andrew Harris, also a CFL Top Performer. As a running back in the game against the Argos, he had 123 all-purpose yards, 116 yards from scrimmage, and seven in the air on five catches.


A note of caution. There are still 14 games remaining for most teams, before the playoffs to determine the Grey Cup finalists. In the CFL, anything can happen, (and usually does!). Just plain exciting football, above the 49th parallel.


James Hurst
July 2019.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

 

Miracle at St. Andrews


If you are a golfer, or if you just like the game, I suggest you get a copy of Miracle at St. Andrews, a novel by James Patterson and Peter de Jonge. Many of you will recognize the name James Patterson. Almost 400 million of his books have been sold, worldwide. Peter de Jonge wrote two other books with Patterson: Miracle on the 17th Green, and Miracle at Augusta. I am going to assume they are also about the game. I can't wait to get my hands on those books.


There is a quote from Patterson on the cover of the book that sums up his feelings on the game. “There's no other sport where somebody who is average at best can hit absolutely magical shots, on occasion. Most of us can't dunk a basketball or hit a baseball out of Yankee Stadium. But on occasion, I've had a hole in one, or hit a fairway wood to within a couple of inches of the hole, just like Woods, or Mickelson or Spieth.”


Obviously, Mr Patterson loves the game. After Sunday's PGA tournament in Minnesota, he might have added the name Matthew Wolff. The 20 year old knocked in an eagle shot, on the last hole to win by one stroke over Bryson De Chambeau and Collin Morikawa. It was his third pro start.


The novel is about the fortunes of a golfer named Travis McKinley, nearing the end of his career. He is playing the Champions Tour, and he is feeling the heat of the younger players entering the tour. We are taken to the 16th fairway, and the pressure is on: he must finish in the top 31 players to retain his card and playing privileges the following year.


He has a son in third grade named Noah. His older son, Simon, is an outstanding soccer goaltender at the University of Virginia, well on his way to becoming a professional player. His daughter, Elizabeth is a doctor. Sarah, his wife, has been the foundation of the McKinley family, especially during the four years that he played on the Senior Tour.


He spends a little time with his buddies at his home course, the heads out to try to regain his card at the Tucson National course, playing four rounds at “Q” school. As he approaches the green on the final hole, he realizes he is in a trap, 157 feet from the front edge, with a nasty lip.


He tries a career behind the microphone for a golf channel, but discovers he is just a little too honest, perhaps too brash, for that life. He refers to himself as a “golf whisperer”!


Late that summer, the family heads to England to do beds and breakfasts in a camper van, with their faithful dog Louie. He finds his ancestral home, tours Stonehenge, catch some scenic bits of Scotland. He naturally wanted to play at St. Andrews, but the course was closed to the public, anticipating the upcoming Open. His second choice was Royal Dornach in the Scottish Highlands. He plays with a local, cards a 61. Unheard of, it is the course record.


He plays Loch Lomand, just failing to qualify to play The Open, at St. Andrews. A little twist of golfing fate allows him to gain the final spot. He meets with his caddy at a nearby pub, and sets out his strategy for The Open.


A really fine literary experience, for those of you who love the game, for those of you who have spent some time in Scotland.


Miracle at St. Andrews awaits you at the library.

James Hurst
July 8, 2019.
-- 
James Hurst
613.399.2278
sportslices.blogspot.ca


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

 

Happy Canada Day!!


The Toronto Blue Jays chased the Kansas City Royals out of town yesterday, winning three games out of the four game series. The Jays now get to face the Boston Red Sox in Toronto.

The Sox are reeling after a rather unpleasant adventure across the pond. For the first time in history, two major league teams-the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, squared off on European soil. Two games were played in London, at the site where the Olympic Games took place recently. The Red Sox simply were trounced in both games.


Two of the Yankee players, Edwin Encarnacion and Masahiro Tanaka had their passports ready to hand over to the customs officer. Encarnacion is a relatively new addition to the Yankees, as he spent the first part of the season with the Seattle Mariners. As a Mariner, he traveled to Tokyo to play in the opening series this season. Tanaka played in the Japanese League prior to his time with the Yankees.


In 2014, Major League Baseball stretched its wings by playing a game in Australia. The Dodgers beat the Diamond Backs in that tilt. The Cubs beat the Mets in 2000 in a regular season game in Tokyo. It appears that this is just the tip of the iceberg for these games. MLB has a huge storage facility in London to tuck away all of the equipment used in the game: lights, towers, outfield fences. They will be ready for another sell-out in merry old England.


DiDi Gregorious of the Yankees was the only European-born player in the contests. He was born in the Netherlands, but grew up in Curacao, one of the “ABC Islands”: Aruba and Bonaire are the others. Even with all of the travel the players experience in a 162 game schedule, many experienced jet lag from flying across the Atlantic.


The first game they played ended as the second-highest scoring game in history between these two teams. On August 21, 2009, the Yanks and Sox battered pitchers to score 31 runs. Last Saturday, they managed 30 runs, the Yanks prevailing 17-13. Each team scored six runs in the first inning. Neither starter was able to complete the first inning. Aaron Hicks gave the Yankees a 6-0 lead with a home run off Rick Porcello, sending him to the showers after recording one out.
DJ Le Mahieu got the first hit for the Yankees. Mookie Betts singled for the Red Sox to get them on the board. That opened the floodgates for both teams.


The Red Sox now trail the Yankees by more than ten runs. Both teams have stacked rosters, and have been able to fight the injury bug with suitable replacements.

The All Star Activities will give most major leaguers a slight respite from the regular season this coming week. One bright spot for Blue Jay fans will be the appearance of Vladimir Guerrero Junior in the “Home Run Derby”. It is an interesting contest that takes place prior to the actual game. Many of us wished that he would have declined to take place in the contest. More than one fine hitter has been negatively affected by his appearance in the contest. It is not a natural event for a baseball player, and the timing in different. Good luck, Vladdy.


The hockey and the basketball worlds are currently are in a frenzied mode, as the teams are vying for free agents, and are trading to improve their rosters for next season. The big fish in the pond is Kawhi Leonard, who led the Raptors to the NBA Championship. He has not yet decided where he will hang his hat next year. Wherever it is, he will be well compensated.


And the CFL is well underway. The Argos took another one on the chin Monday night, after a spectacular lightning delay in Saskatchewan. It is an 18 game season, plenty of time to turn things around. The Tiger Cats look strong, at least for now.


Enjoy!!!


James Hurst
July 2, 2019.



-- 
James Hurst
613.399.2278
sportslices.blogspot.ca


 

Big Wins for the Jays


The Blue Jays are in New York for the next few days to face the Yankees. But you can't blame them for having small smiles on their faces, after taking two of three games against the Red Sox in Boston.


Saturday's win was special. They trailed the Beantowners 6-0 at one point in the game, then rallied to win 8-7. They followed that up with a victory on Sunday behind a strong pitching performance from Marcus Stroman. He had six strike outs in six innings, without allowing a run.


It has been a somewhat difficult season for the Jays up to this point, but that was to be expected. Their lineup is laden with rookies, and that means that there will be mistakes: running blunders, mental mistakes, rough outings for pitchers. All of that, and more, leaving the Jays well short of .500 baseball. This will not be a year of playoff baseball for the Jays.


No matter. There are so many reasons to watch the Jays as they head into the second half of the season. Primarily, all of the excitement surrounds the young Jays, and the promise that they bring for years to come.


Most of the hype came this spring in the form of Vladimir Guerrero, Junior. His father was a star for the Montreal Expos, and many fans loved his game: no holds barred, wild swings at pitches far off the plate. All heart, every game. It was great to see him at his son's first games, smiling broadly, surrounded by family.


Cavan Biggio has also had fine results so far this season. He has reached base safely in 19 of the 24 games he has played this season, and his .359 on-base percentage is second among rookies in the American League, trailing only Oscar Mercado.


Rowdy Tellez has spent a good deal of time lately playing first base for the Jays. He is a giant, standing at 6' 5”, weighing 260 lbs. He has explosive power, and has tallied 14 home runs and 35 runs batted in, thus far. Watch for Houston's Jose Altube, when he reaches first base against the Jays. You will then understand Rowdy's impressive size. In any case, with a name such as his, how could he not be a fan favourite?


Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., has been seeing action in left field for the Jays. He scooped up a single off the bat of Jackie Bradley, Jr., and in one fluid motion, fired a perfect strike to nail Brock Holt at home plate. He also is among the league leaders in slugging percentage since being recalled from Buffalo.


Another fine rookie, with a major league pedigree is Bo Bichette. He spent six weeks on the injury list with a fractured left hand, not a great way to start the season. And he admits he is learning how to be a major leaguer. “I am starting to learn how to hone my passion. It's been a blessing.”


The city of Toronto is still basking in the triumph of the Raptors. Am I the only one who has heard more than enough rumour talk about the possibility of Kawhi returning next year? The Argos suffered a terrible loss at the hands of the Hamilton Tiger Cats last weekend: 64-14! Back to the old drawing board this week for the Boatmen. Maple Leaf pre-season tickets are now on sale.


Four baseball people have been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame: Jason Bay, who played most of his career with the Pirates; Ryan Dempster, a long-time Cub; Rob Thompson, who coached many years for the Yankees; and Gord Ash, formerly an exec with the Blue Jays, now with the Brewers.


Summer's here! Enjoy the games!!

James Hurst
June 24, 2019
-- 
James Hurst
613.399.2278
sportslices.blogspot.ca


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