Thursday, April 19, 2018

 

The Playoffs- Spring, 2018



There are important playoff games taking place all over North America. Perhaps not as many hockey playoff games in Canada as you would wish, but that is the nature of the beast: play well in the regular season, and you may share some of the spoils of the post season. So goes the year in these cities: Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton. As is usually the case, great expectations in the fall, only to be dashed by injuries, poor coaching and management decisions, and the like.


In the hockey world, sixteen teams survive after the regular season. Some of those survivors continue on through the playoffs, scoring timely goals, taking fewer penalties, hitting fewer goal posts, getting lucky breaks. My guess is that will apply to the Penguins, the Knights, the Blue Jackets, the Predators, the Sharks, and the Lightning. Leaf fans got something to cheer about on Monday night when the Blue and White defeated the Bruins in Toronto. Frederik Andersen played brilliantly in the Toronto net, especially in the third period.


Once we enter the second round of these playoffs, it will be a little easier to determine results. Our entire nation pins its hopes on its one and only basketball team, the Raptors. For the first time in franchise history, they won their first playoff game.


The Eastern Conference in the NBA was to be dominated by the Cleveland Cavaliers. After all, LeBron James has played in the last eight NBA final games, with the Cavs and with the Miami Heat. Few doubted that things would change much, although the team has undergone major restructuring this season. They lost their first playoff game at home last Sunday, an almost unheard of event. The Raptors also play two more games at home before heading out to Washington.



It was just fine to see that little Canadian flag attached to the leader's name in last weekend's LPGA event. Once the last putt had dropped into the cup on the 18th green, Smiths Falls' Brooke Henderson had emerged victorious in the Hawaiian event. She methodically mowed down the opposition over the last nine holes to finish four strokes ahead of the pack. Her sister Brittany is her caddie, and they worked together to get the job done in the breezy weather. Simply put, they were able to work in the conditions better than any other pair. Remarkably, Brooke is only 20 years old, and has already etched her name on many pieces of golf hardware.

Sandra Post is still considered to be Canada's greatest female golfer. Henderson only needs to win a couple of events to surpass Post in that regard. That could certainly happen this year. Henderson will respond in that same manner when she realizes what she has accomplished: brilliant smile, few words, and an anticipation to get on to the next tournament.


Also in the hockey world, the Florida Everblades begin their quest to win the Allen Cup this week as the champions of the ECHL. They play two games against the Atlanta Gladiators at the Germain Arena. They finished the season with record totals, most points ever. A tribute to coach Brad Ralph. And yet, the important job lies straight ahead: becoming the victor in “The Playoffs”.


James Hurst
April 16, 2018



Monday, April 09, 2018

 

A Long Ways to Go



Marjory Stoneman Douglas was an American pioneer who grew up in Florida. She became an author, a journalist, and a devout conservationist. One of her chief life ambitions was to preserve “The Everglades”. Throughout her life she fought efforts to drain the Everglades to reclaim land for development. Many of the modern Floridian cities were forged from reclaimed land, swamp land essentially, when the mangroves were torn up and the canals routed to the nearest rivers and oceans. As a tribute to her success, a school was named after her in Parkland, Florida, just north of Fort Lauderdale and Miami, on the East Coast. Marjorie Stoneman died when she was 108.


There are thousand of schools named after good citizens who contributed much to their local communities. It is a fine way to recognize those who have shown good community spirit. Most of those schools remain unknown, nationally and internationally. Tragically, the school named after Marjory Stoneman has become infamous.


Last Valentine's Day, as students were preparing to head home from school, a lone gunman raced down the halls, and open fired on the crowds with an attack weapon. He killed 17 students and teachers, and wounded 17 others. It left a community in despair, and a nation in shock.


One graduate of the school who was deeply troubled by the massacre is Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo now plays for the Chicago Cubs. It just so happened that more than a year ago, the Cubs had been slated to open their 2018 season in Miami. Rizzo remembers his high school days fondly, as do most of us. In a nutshell, he said, that's “where I grew up”.


The day after the shootings, Rizzo delivered an emotional speech at the vigil for the victims. Understandable, he was deeply affected by the horror. Several other athletes and their families were also affected by the events. The Florida Panthers practise hockey in an arena not far from the school, and many players and team personnel live in gated communities in the area.


Rizzo was expected to attend university after high school, but chose to sign with the Red Sox. In 2009, he began moving up the chain, with stints in Salem, and the Florida Gulf Coast Red Sox. He was traded to the Padres on June 9, 2011. He made his Major League debut a year later on June 6, 2012.


Rizzo stands at 6' 3” and tips the scales at 240. The rangy first baseman really hit his stride after he was traded to the Cubs. He was an all star in 2014, 2015, and 2016, and won the Gold Glove Award in 216. He was one of the key ingredients in the Cubbies World Series victory in 2016. He has averaged almost 100 runs batted in, 30 home runs, and a .267 batting average with the Cubs.


All of the uniforms of the Cubs and the Marlins had a “MSD” badge front and centre. Rightfully so. As we have seen, the world has changed because of the events of that day. There has been great discussion about gun laws, with some legislative changes. The enormous power of the National Rifle Association has been challenged. Students from the school have taken to the podia of the world to spread the message that this should never happen again, anywhere.


There has been an enormous outpouring of sympathy for the community, and the students. Politicians are now pondering the rights and wrongs of possession of assault weapons, for citizens. This is not the first time that such a tragic event has occurred. Sadly, it will not be the last. Not only do these things happen in America. Man has shown inhumanity world-wide. It is up to the rest of us to work hard to reduce the chances of it ever happening again.


I would venture to say that Anthony Rizzo feels the same way.

James Hurst
April 2, 2018

Saturday, March 31, 2018

 

When Will They Ever Learn?


Our Spring Training experience began this year with a game between the Minnesota Twins and the University of Minnesota Gophers baseball team. It is an annual affair, and the Twins are kind enough to the fans, and to the Gophers to start the game with most of their regulars in the lineup.

Dozier led off, followed by Mauer, Sano, Rosario, Morrison, Buxton, and the rest. Batting eighth was Jorge Polanco. Polanco was suspended on Sunday, March 18th for 80 games after testing positive for the banned substance Stanozonol.

Stanozonol has been around a long time. I am sure you will recall that Ben Johnson was disqualified after he won the 100 metre race in the Olympics in Seoul in 1988, because he had used the same performance-enhancing drug.

In a statement from the players' union, Polanco said that he did not “intentionally consume this steroid”. He said that he requested a substance from his athletic trainer in the Dominican Republic, but was given something else.

Polanco is 24 years old, from the Dominican Republic. As a regular shortstop with the Twins last year, his second half of the season was nothing short of remarkable. He stole 13 bases, hit .316, had 10 home runs and 42 runs batted in. He batted third in the order, and helped the Twins get to the American League wild card game. Of course, the question remains as to whether or not he was “on the juice” at that time. We will never know.

The second baseman on that team, Brian Dozier, summed up his feelings on Polanco's situation, with drug-taking. “We don't want it in our game. We want a clean game. It sometimes is disappointing in seeing guys still trying to use performance-enhancing drugs.”

Polanco is not alone this season. Other players suspended thus far: Jorge Bonifacio-Royals, Oscar Hernandez-Boston, Steve Geltz-Phillies, Jon Singleton-Houston. Their suspensions range between 50 and 100 games.

The Twins, and the rest of the Major League baseball players break camp this week, and head north to begin the grind-162 games of regular season baseball. Opening games take place on Thursday night. The Twins open in Baltimore against the Orioles, then head to Pittsburgh for two games before heading to the Twin Cities.

The Jays still have a couple of exhibition games slated for this weekend in Montreal, as the league continues to toy with the idea that baseball will sell in the city.

The Twins have options for Polanco's position. Eduardo Escobar played five positions for them last season, had 21 home runs and 73 runs-batted-in in 457 at bats-respectable numbers. A couple of other players might also be considered: Erick Aybar and Ehire Adrianza.

Polanco is not one of those players making huge amounts of money. He was to receive slightly more than $500 000 this year. That's not going to happen. He did indicate some remorse for his error. “My hope is that, though this is an extremely disappointing situation, other players will learn from my mistake”. Some perhaps, but not all.

Dozier did show some sympathy for his teammate. “When it comes to a guy on my team, that's my brother. He needs love right now.”

Enough, already. Play Ball!!!

James Hurst
March 26, 2018




Tuesday, March 27, 2018

 

Tiger's Back!




If you are a golf fan, such as I, then you are likely following the remarkable comeback of Tiger Woods. After four back surgeries, and other countless setbacks, he has come to play. Round after round, recently, he has shown that he will be in the thick of things, likely for years to come. He pounds his drives off the tee, not always exactly where he would like the ball to go. But his drives are almost as long as anyone else on the tour, and his ball lands in a spot where he can finish each hole at par, or close to it.


One cannot argue with the fact that he has re-invigorated his game, and the fans' interest in the game. Truly remarkable fans now gather at each hole to watch him play. No doubt that television ratings have increased substantially since he began to play well. In a nutshell, those things pay the bills. No one ever suggested that Woods was on hard times when his game and his health left him. He still had his followers, and he likely had to put seven digits on his income tax form at the end of the year. Following this year's tournaments, thus far, his stock has increased substantially. His efforts are truly commendable.


He knows what he is up against on the PGA Tour. There is the usual pack of great golfers looking to lead the pack late Sunday afternoon. But there are also the upstarts, those young golfers who believe they belong, trying to put their names on silver goblets. Phil Mickelson recently won in Mexico. “Lefty” had left a message that he just isn't ready to join the Seniors Tour. I am sure that there are several players on that tour who are grateful for that. The Seniors Tour becomes more competitive each year, as the younger members of the PGA turn 50.


Along with Mickleson, there are other great players chomping at the bit to win: Bubba Watson, Ernie Ells, Stuart Cink, Charles Howell III, Sergio Garcia, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson, Rory, (you know his last name,) Justin Rose, Rickie, (same thing!), Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth....It is a long and hungry list. And you can include a few Canadians in that pack: Mackenzie Hughes, Adam Hadwin, Nick Taylor, Graham DeLaet, Ben Silverman and Corey Conners.


And then there is that list of fine pros who are not exactly household words, just yet. Bryson DeChambeau, Sam Burns, John Huh, Grayson Murray, Ryan Moore, Sam Horsfield, Tommy Fleetwood, to name just a few. That is also a very long list.


But any week, when all of the stars are perfectly aligned, when one's biorhythms are ready, any one of these guys can step up to the little white ball and reach the podium. Most golf fans are looking forward to the first major tournament, The Masters, in early April. As I write, they are rolling the greens and clipping the fairways on that pasture in Georgia. It was not too long ago that a young Canadian who also hits from the south side, came to the fore and won the Green Jacket. His name is Mike Weir, and he is easily Canada's best recognized golfer at this time.


Last Sunday, Rory won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in style. He had five birdies on the last six holes to win by three strokes. Tiger got within one stroke of the lead on the back nine, but faltered down the stretch. He did crank up one drive, measured at 375 yards, on one of those holes. That would send a message to the rest of the players.


It won't be long before some of you will be enjoying the great game of golf, all over the world!

James Hurst
March 19, 2018


Thursday, March 22, 2018

 

Memories ofthe Breaking of the Four Minute Mile





Our memories often serve us in intriguing, and sometimes inexplicable ways. We remember some nebulous things so easily, but forget names and places that we really should remember.


Then there are those events, sometimes historic, that come back to us instantly and vividly. One of those in my memory was the Mile Race at the British Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1954. Earlier that year, Roger Bannister became the first person to break the barrier of the Four Minute Mile. He accomplished that feat at Iffley Road Track at Oxford, England, using Chris Chattaway as a pace setter. I have no idea why I was at a particular location. But I remember it vividly. It was at the Bay of Quinte Yacht Club, in the Belleville Harbour. They had a black and white television hung in a corner, and the race was being shown on international television.


As long as I can remember, I have had a keen interest in sport, and I had become interested in distance running. I was born slow, not the slowest in any particular race. But certainly not the fastest. At Sunday School picnics, out on the school yard at Queen Victoria School, or at Queen Alexandra School, I realized that I was never destined to lead the pack. I was a skinny runt, standing less than five feet tall, weighing less that 100 pounds even when I was in the tenth grade. But I loved the running business, perhaps influenced by my older brother Dick, who could really run.


We watched him compete in the Ken Colling Memorial Run, held annually at the local high school. He never won the race, but always placed well. Aboriginals from the local Mohawk Reserve, particularly the Green Brothers, did well in that race, hearkening our memories to great runners like Tom Longboat. Others, like Bill Vermilyea, could just “flat out run” and took the podium multiple times.


Not to be outdone, we ran the course several times ourselves, testing our limits. We rode the course on our bikes, then ran it just to prove it could be done. We did not need stopwatches.


The mile is 5 280 feet, 1 760 yards, and is an important instrument of measurement in the United States, but not in many other areas in the world, any more. All Olympic events are now measured with the metric system, so there is no further talk of inches, feet, or yards. All that Bannister had on his mind that day was to run that distance in less than four minutes. He was racing a staunch competitor, John Landy, from New Zealand.


The race was dubbed “The Miracle Mile”. Landy led the entire race, until near the finish line, when he looked over his left should to see if Bannister was with him. Roger Bannister passed him on the right side to finish at 3:58.8. Landy also finished under four minutes at 3:59.6. Historically, one of the greatest races of all time.
The world record for the mile has been broken many times since 1954. The current record holder is a Moroccan, Hicham El Guerrouj. His time is 3:43.13, and he accomplished this in 1999 in Rome. Svetlana Masterkova from Russia holds the women's mark: 4:12.56, which she accomplished in 1996.


Dr. Roger Bannister was also a neurologist who was always more proud of his contributions to academic medicine. He was also knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Bannister died on March 3, 2018, at the age of 88.


James Hurst
March 10, 2018.




Tuesday, March 13, 2018

 

Florida Gulf Coast Eagles Basketball

                                                               Dinero Mercurius


The stage was set for the FGCU Men's basketball team to put the icing on the cake last Sunday. They had finished first in the regular season, earning the right to host the Championship Game. They had Coach Joe Dooley at the helm, and he had just been named “Coach of the Year” for the ASUN, the conference in which they play.


Brandon Goodwin had been named the “Player of the Year” for the ASUN. He was also named to the first team all stars with fellow Eagle Zach Johnson. They had won their quarter final and semi final games. Their home court at the Alico Arena was jammed to the rafters. The prime American sports network, ESPN was all set up to cover the game. What could possibly go wrong?


The Lipscomb Bisons won the tip off to start the game. Never a good omen. They had finished second in the conference, and they had previously defeated the Eagles at the Alico Arena. They entered the game with a quiet confidence, and with a shooter named Garrison Matthews. They made very few errors in the first half. They shot the lights out. They began the second half with an insurmountable lead of 29 points.


The Eagles came out cold to start the game. They fouled at inopportune times, they passed poorly, they took bad shots, they did not guard the rock well at all. It may have been a case of nerves, a bit of wilting under pressure. They just played really poorly, and gave the Bisons ample opportunity to steal the victory.


The Eagles resorted to a full court press in the second half, with amazing results. They outscored the Bisons 65-48 in the second half. They reduced the Bisons' lead to five points, but that was it. The boys from Nashville withstood the heat, and waltzed away with the victory, 108-96.



Zach Johnson had 37 points in the loss, including 9 three-pointers. Brandon Goodwin had 34 points, to no avail. Lipscomb made 65% of their shots from the floor in the game, an incredible number.


Naturally, there were many disappointed fans at the end of the game, and a few tears from the young players. The Eagles now await the results of the NCAA draw next Monday to find out how they will fit into the National Invitation Tournament. It is a small consolation for what was expected from Sunday's game.


Hats off to the Lipscomb Bisons from Nashville, Tennessee. Their execution was almost flawless. It was good enough to sink the Eagles' ship last Sunday.


Sports kudos to Michelle Wie for winning her first LPGA event since 2014. And a nod to Brooke Henderson for finishing second. Phil Mickelson won the PGA event, his first in 100 tries. It was a little disappointing to see Shubhankar Sharma fade in the last round when he carded a 74. It was the first PGA event for the youngster from India. There are so many young golfers out there who could win at any given time. Tough crowd, as Rodney Dangerfield would say.


It all makes for great sport!!!


James Hurst
March 6, 2018.




Friday, March 02, 2018

 

Spring Training-2018



About a week ago, catchers and pitchers were summoned to their Spring Training facilities here in Florida, and also to Arizona. The teams in Florida play in the “Grapefruit League”, those in Arizona play in the “Cactus League”. As you well know, there really aren't leagues, and these games played in Spring Training don't mean a damn thing. They are simply training games.

Teams go to the ball park early in the morning when it is cool. They work on fundamentals: hitting, fielding, catching, covering bases, throwing from the outfield to the correct place....learning how to do it right when the occasion arises in game conditions.

In the afternoon, or the evening they take the field to play other teams. Managers, coaches, scouts, and other team leaders watch new players carefully to see whether or not they are ready for the big leagues. All teams have hundreds of players in their camps. Following Spring Training players are dispersed to various levels in the organization. Only a select few manage to make the Major League roster. The others will be distributed to Rookie Leagues, Class “A”, Class “AA” or to the highest level of ball outside the majors, “AAA” ball. Throughout the year, players may move up or down, depending on their play, or on the requirements of the organization.

Two teams use Fort Myers for Spring Training: The Minnesota Twins and the Boston Red Sox. Each has its own ball park and training facilities, consisting of batting cages, pitching areas with mounds, and several regulation-sized baseball fields. The Twins have a large residential building to house their players, also used during the summer for the minor league team called the “Fort Myers Miracle”.

We went to the first Spring Training game that the Twins played last Thursday. They played the University of Minnesota Gophers. It is a traditional thing for Major League teams to play local university teams I n the early days of Spring Training. I am sure that the college kids would get a big thrill out of this. For some, it might prove to be the pinnacle of their careers.

Justin Morneau works as a special assistant for the Twins. He played in the majors for 13 years with the Twins, Rockies, Pirates and White Sox. The native of New Westminister, British Columbia, he also represented Canada several times in World Baseball Championships.

Originally a catcher, he moved to first base early in his career. He was one of those guys with a sweet swing who could knock the cover off a baseball. Standing 6' 4”, and weighing 230 pounds, he covered a lot of ground around first base in the field. He first played in the majors in 2003, and his last game in 2016. He was a 4 time All Star, and the American League Most Valuable Player in 2006. He won the Home Run Derby at the All Star Game in 2008. In 2014, he won the National League batting title with the Rockies.

He actually played one exhibition game for the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League, enough to get his named engraved on the Memorial Cup! One assistant coach said,; “ He was young and raw, a big guy who covered a lot of the net. I remember a conversation we had with him when recruiting him. We told him he should go to hockey because not many Canadian guys end up going very far and doing very well in baseball. He showed us otherwise!”

The Twins won the game 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth. Like I said, it doesn't count!


James Hurst
February 27, 2018.

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